Exclusive: Marine Corps Commanders Using Form Letter to Deny Religious Exemptions


U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Sgt. Micha Pierce

Marine Corps commanders across different commands are using the same form letter to deny religious accommodation requests for the coronavirus vaccine, despite a legal requirement to consider each request on an individual basis, according to more than a dozen denial letters viewed by Breitbart News.

The use of the same form letter suggests blanket denials across the service regardless of individual circumstances and testimony, according to one lawyer assisting hundreds of service members seeking religious exemptions.

“They’re all identical, every single one of them. It’s evidence that they’re not evaluating them on an individual basis, which is what the regulations and federal law require, and it’s like somebody just issued a template, and they’re just rubber-stamping them,” said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty and Marine reservist.

“These don’t address the specific circumstances of their request,” he said.

Marine Corps policy states that “the burden of proof is placed upon the Marine Corps, not the individual requesting the exemption” and that “commanders making final determinations on requests will consider, with appropriate annotation on the determination, the elements of mission accomplishment that form the basis of the compelling governmental interest.”

It adds, “Each request for religious accommodation must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to the full range of facts and circumstances relevant to the specific request. It is essential that commanders articulate the factual basis underlying their decision.”

Yet, each denial letter viewed by Breitbart News is identical except for the name and unit of the requester, date of the request, and officer denying the request. The letters are all signed by Marine Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, deputy commandant of Manpower & Reserve Affairs for the Marine Corps. In some cases, they are signed “for” Ottignon by Michael Strobl, assistant deputy commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs.

The denial letters were the same for a Marine who requested religious accommodation due to a miscarriage and a Marine who had been a practicing Christian for at least 13 years, according to religious accommodation request packets reviewed by Breitbart News.

In the first case, the Marine’s commanding officer, a Navy commander, wrote that he had interviewed her and that she was “devastated by the loss of her child to miscarriage and is still struggling to make sense of this tragedy.” The commander added, “Consequently, it is my opinion, [name redacted] is severely uncertain in her ability to become pregnant and believes at this time her conscience will not permit her to receive the vaccine and potentially place her fertility in jeopardy.”:



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