Armed Forces News

Army Chaplain Capt. Carl Subler, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, delivers a catholic mass to Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment awaiting transportation at the helicopter loading zone at Forward Operating Base Wolverine, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, December 12, 2009. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christine Jones)

An Air Force command chaplain has spelled out guidelines for service members who wish to claim religious accommodation as a reason for legally refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine by the mandated Nov. 2 deadline.

Her advice to applicants is they should be ready to prove their unwillingness to be vaccinated is based on strong religious conviction.

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“We’re used to seeing a chaplain as a pastor, as a preacher, or as a unit chaplain who visits, and if you’re having difficulties, being the person you go to to listen empathetically,” said Chaplain (Col.) Donette Boyd, the top chaplain with the Air Education and Training Command (AETC). “However, for religious exemptions, instead of the counselor, the chaplain takes on an interviewer role to assess if the request is based on a sincerely held belief.”

Applicants should expect chaplains to ask challenging, direct questions during their interviews, Boyd said. Ultimately, final decisions will be assessed collectively by a Religious Resolution Team that consists of chaplains, medical providers, judge advocates and other subject matter experts. In turn, this team would move their findings up the chain of command. Major command leaders would make final decisions.

Applicants should expect a chaplain other than the one assigned to their unit to conduct such interviews.

“In the Air Force Chaplain Corps we’ve been very intentional in ensuring not only that chaplains understand their role, but that the airmen also understand the role of the chaplain in this capacity,” Boyd said. “Being able to exercise their First Amendment rights is very important. We, as chaplains, have to make sure we’re following the process correctly.”