Religious Accommodation in the Military

military member praying in a field

Multi-Service Guide to Religious Accommodation Policy

Service members concerned about the COVID vaccination and interested in requesting a religious accommodation need to be precise and confident to be successful.  The various processes seek to measure the need for the order or policy against the weight of the burden on the soldier or sailor considering the depth of their religious conviction (aka RFRA analysis- Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

Courts want to see a religious accommodation request before granting relief.  If you have faith-based objections to the vaccine, you need to seek accommodation NOW before the deadline is published and expired.  Your position and credibility are best preserved by seeking permission when you knew you could not comply with the order but before you get in trouble for failing to comply. The relevant policies are found below:
DOD - DOD Instruction 1300.17 governs Religious Liberty in the military services, and can be found here: https://firstliberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/DODI-1300.17-Sept-1-2020.pdf

Army – Religious Accommodation in the Army is governed by AR 200-20, para. 5-6.  The coverage regarding immunizations is light, I would expect supplementary guidance regarding accommodations for COVID to be forthcoming.  The existing policy can be found here:
https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30511-AR_600-20-002-WEB-3.pdf

Navy – The Navy has a well-developed policy signed in March of 2020, BUPERS 1730.11A.  Approval authority for COVID Vaccine accommodations is O6 CO/ISIC recommendation to CNO N1. The policy can be found here:
https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Portals/55/Reference/Instructions/BUPERS/BUPERSINST_1730_11A.pdf

Air Force -   Air Force policy for Religious Freedom in the Department of the Air Force is contained in Instruction 52-201, which can be found here:  
https://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_hc/publication/dafi52-201/dafi52-201.pdf

Coast Guard -   COMDTINST 1000.15 covers Military Religious Accommodations, was just signed on 30 Aug of this year, but does not appear to be posted online.  It contains a robust process for seeking RA.   Your command should be able to provide you a copy. You’ll need the help of your Chaplain.  If you don’t know who that is, you can find them here:   
https://www.uscg.mil/Coronavirus/Information/Article/2175949/chaplain-faqs/

Marines - Unit commanders will approve or deny requests for accommodation of religious practices covered by DOD Directive 1300.17/ SECNAVINST 1730.8B / MCO 1020.34.  Commanders may also rescind previously granted formal religious accommodations but must do so in writing and include specific rationale for the rescission.  SECNAVINST:  PDF LINK

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