COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military nears its end

U.S. military soldier Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military service members is just a few steps away from being eradicated, as Republicans in the House of Representatives have secured a compromise with Democrats dropping the mandate from the nation’s annual military spending bill.

The almost $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was bipartisanly passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 350-80 on Thursday. The Senate is reportedly expected to vote on the bill next week before it is sent to President Joe Biden’s desk to be enacted into law.

Part of the bill mandates that the government rescind the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that was announced in August 2021. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said in the mandate announcement that “our vaccination of the force will save lives.”

In the mandate announcement, Austin said that mandate would be “subject to any identified contraindications and any administrative or other exemptions established in Military Department policy.”

The Biden administration was widely criticized for its federal mandate and several lawsuits ensued following the announcement.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who is in the running for Speaker of the House come January when Republicans take majority control — celebrated the bill’s reference to the vaccine mandate. 

“The COVID vax mandate on our military is ending,” McCarthy said in a Dec. 8 tweet.

“Last week I told Biden directly: It’s time to end your COVID vaccine mandate on our military and rehire our service members. The end of the mandate is a victory for our military and for common sense,” he added.

Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk responded to McCarthy’s tweet saying, “The repeal of the vaccine mandate is a step in the right direction. But I agree with Speaker-Elect McCarthy, it should go further.”

“Those discharged from the military for not taking the vax should be allowed reinstatement without retribution,” he said.

Many military members lost their jobs for not getting the vaccine, which critics of the mandate cited as one reason for the military falling short of its recruitment goals.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, an Air Force veteran, tweeted Dec. 7 that “the White House directed the DOD to discharge 3,300 Marines, 1,800 soldiers, 1,800 sailors, and 900 airmen based on their decision to not take the COVID vaccine.”

“There’s no doubt this decision put our national security at risk. The end of this mandate is a win for America,” he said.

Illinois Republican Rep. Mary Miller on Twitter also celebrated the mandate’s foreseeable end. “The end of this vaccine mandate will lead to the end of every unconstitutional and unjust COVID mandate, and House Republicans must investigate the corruption at the CDC and FDA when we take the majority next month!” she said.

Archbishop of the Military Services USA Timothy Broglio did not respond to CNA’s inquiry for comment.

In the anticipation of the government’s mandate in August 2021, Broglio said that taking the vaccine is morally permissible and that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) advice “is the best guidance that we, as Catholics, have.” The CDF’s guidance on COVID-19 vaccination can be read here.

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In an October 2021 statement on the COVID-19 vaccines, Broglio reiterated that the archdiocese “clearly encourages the faithful entrusted to her care to follow the guidance of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with regard to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Broglio wrote that “no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience.”

Citing Pope Paul VI’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, Broglio wrote that “Individuals possess the ‘civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.’” 

“Even if an individual’s decision seems erroneous or inconsistent to others, conscience does not lose its dignity. This belief permeates Catholic moral theology as well as First Amendment jurisprudence,” he wrote.

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” Broglio wrote.

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