Air Force chaplain reprimanded for pursuit of religious exemption to Austin vaccine mandate

"He believes that submitting to an unlawful order would violate his oath to support and defend the Constitution and would make him disqualified to serve as an ordained pastor in the future," said the chaplain's attorney, Davis Younts.

Updated: January 29, 2022 - 10:52pm

An active duty Air Force chaplain has received a letter of reprimand in answer to his pursuit of a religious exemption to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The major, who is remaining anonymous, met the deadlines and requirements for submitting a religious accommodation request (RAR), but was denied. He appealed the denial, which was also denied.

After the second denial, the chaplain was ordered to get the COVID vaccine. Following his refusal to receive the shot, he was sent a letter of correction, which is equivalent to a warning. When the correction letter was sustained and he was again ordered to get the inoculation, he refused, and was served a letter of reprimand.

"Letters of Reprimand are often used for things like - Sexual Harassment, Cruelty and Maltreatment, False Official Statements, and Dereliction of Duty," the chaplain's attorney, Davis Younts, told Just the News.

The chaplain's request to overturn the letter of reprimand was denied. Since the letter was upheld, it will create an unfavorable information file, which is considered in the major's performance report that goes before the promotion board, where service members compete for promotions. If he gets a negative performance report as a result, then he won't be competitive for a promotion, essentially ending his military career.

The chaplain is entitled to defend his vaccine refusal before an administrative separation board, however Younts said the Air Force will likely offer an honorable discharge if the chaplain agrees to waive his right to the board. If he doesn't waive the board, then he will likely be threatened with a general discharge.

If the Air Force is to grant any RARs, the chaplain should be at the top of the list, Younts argues.

"He believes that submitting to an unlawful order would violate his oath to support and defend the Constitution and would make him disqualified to serve as an ordained pastor in the future," Younts explained. "Despite the fact that he is facing punishment and discharge, he believes that he must take this stand for his faith and for all the Airmen he has ministered to. He does not believe that he could ever preach to military members or any congregation again if he compromised his faith and was not a voice for the voiceless."

The chaplain told Just the News that people have said if he can't get an RAR approved, then nobody will. He also believes that getting the vaccine would be sinning against God, and he would be disqualifying himself to represent his religious tradition and teach God's Word if he's unwilling to follow it.

The chaplain's denied RAR is one of what critics allege are blanket Air Force denials, which would be in violation of law. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Brandi King has alleged that she received a blanket denial to her RAR.

The Air Force previously told Just the News that each RAR case is "reviewed individually and on its own merit."

Nearly two weeks ago, the Marine Corps granted RARs to two Marines, becoming the first military branch to approve religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine.

Earlier this month, a U.S. district court judge ruled in favor of 35 service members who were denied RARs, granting a preliminary injunction against the vaccine mandate. The Navy's religious exemption process "merely rubber stamps each denial," the judge held.