OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) - A battle is brewing over religious exemptions, days after the vaccine mandate deadline for the Marine Corps passed.
In September, ABC 10News spoke to Camp Pendelton Marine, Lance Cpl. Matthew Northcutt—who enlisted more than two years ago—before he applied for a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Ultimately I would have to go with my personal values and personal morals … I can't betray what I feel,” said Northcutt.
In all, some 95% of Marines are now at least partially vaccinated, days after the vaccine mandate deadline passed.
Meanwhile, Northcutt's request for a religious exemption was denied and is now under appeal.
He's not alone. So far, the Marine Corps has rejected every request it has processed so far for a religious exemption, more than 1900.
Northcutt is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the military’s vaccine mandate, including the religious exemption process.
“The religious exemption issue is a sham. They’re not intending to grant any of these exemptions. They have more than 16,643 exemption requests (across the military) that we know of. Not a single one has been granted. This includes religious exemptions requests from chaplains,” said Mat Staver, attorney for Liberty Counsel.
The Pentagon has repeatedly emphasized the importance of vaccines and military readiness.
Staver says some of his plaintiffs have already been directed into the separation process for a ‘general discharge under honorable conditions,’ which would include the loss of GI benefits.
As for Northcutt, if he loses his appeal, he says he's ready to leave the Marines.
Major Charlie Dietz, spokesperson for the Dept. of Defense, issued the following statement:
"Our military personnel must be ready to execute our mission at all times in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high. Despite effective and sound mitigation measures like the Health Protection Condition framework, the infection rate and fatalities among our Department workforce continues to rise, underscoring how transmissible and lethal the Delta variant is within our communities. Vaccinating every eligible service member improves readiness. We have seen a significant decrease in service member deaths since the implementation of the mandate. As of today, more than 96% of our active duty force has had at least one shot.
On religious exemptions:
•A Service member may request exemption from the vaccination requirement for reasons of religious accommodation through the normal administrative process. Each Service has its own procedures for religious exemptions. Or if the Service member has a health issue for which vaccination is contraindicated, a DoD physician can include an exemption in the member’s health record. These medical exemptions will only be granted by a medical professional.
•We anticipate a very small amount of administrative exemptions, to include religious exemptions, will be approved based on the small amount of exemptions that have been approved so far. On average, approved religious exemptions are rare, as they have been for many years.”