Army officials announced Friday that the service has approved its first religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, making it the final military service to approve such an accommodation.
“The Department of the Army has approved one religious accommodation,” confirmed Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Terry Kelley in an email to Army Times. “The Army determined the service member’s accommodation could be supported with no impact to mission readiness.”
Kelley said the service could not disclose any more information out of respect for the soldier’s privacy.
The vast majority of religious accommodation requests have been denied or are still awaiting decision, though, as the Army marches closer towards its goal of complete vaccination across the force.
As of Thursday, Kelley said, 97% of the active duty force has been vaccinated or began the shot series.
The Army is also yet to discharge any troops refusing the vaccine, despite announcing last month that discharges were beginning.
The Army National Guard and Army Reserve have not hit their vaccination deadline, which is June 30. The effective timeline for the Guard, though, could be impacted by ongoing litigation from governors who argue that the federal government cannot enforce the vaccine mandate on troops who are under state control.
The first religious exemption — and the continued lack of discharges — comes amid a flurry of lawsuits by members of other branches of the military who have argued that the Defense Department is not adequately considering their requests for religious accommodation.
The DoD’s inspector general is going to look into those claims, according to Military.com.
In some cases, judges have issued preliminary injunctions that have stopped the military from punishing certain groups of troops whose requests for accommodation have been denied.
One such servicemember is a Navy destroyer’s commanding officer, and the Navy is arguing in federal court that they cannot deploy the warship without removing him from command.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.