DOD Memo Rescinds COVID Shot Mandate

Jan 11, 2023

The Department of Defense (DOD) has officially rescinded the August 24, 2021 and November 30, 2021 memoranda mandating that members of the Armed Forces Department of Defense service members and members of the National Guard and the Ready Reserves receive the COVID-19 shot. This action comes after thousands of service members have been denied religious accommodation requests (RAR) from the unlawful federal COVID shot mandate. Many service members have been punished, demoted and discharged as a result. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent out a memo that stated even though the military “will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members,” those who refused the shot on religious, administrative or medical grounds will not face discharge. 

Austin stated, “No individuals currently serving in the Armed Forces shall be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative, or medical grounds. The Military Department will update the records of such individuals to remove any adverse actions solely associated with denials of such requests, including letters of reprimand, The Secretaries of the Military Departments will further cease any ongoing reviews of current Service member religious administrative, or medical accommodation requests solely for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine or appeals of denials of such requests.”

The memo also states: “All commanders have the responsibility and authority to preserve the Department’s compelling interest in mission accomplishment. This responsibility and authority includes the ability to maintain military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, and the health and safety of a resilient Joint Force.” 

This is in the same paragraph that begins: “The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members.” 

Liberty Counsel is not confident that the DOD will end all retaliation against service members who filed a RAR. While the memo from Secretary Austin states that adverse actions solely associated with denials will be removed from the respective personnel files, it also states that a commander’s responsibility is to maintain unit cohesion, good order and discipline, and the health and safety of the Joint Force, and thus suggests that getting the COVID-19 shots is the responsibility of the commander. Liberty Counsel knows the DOD has taken the position in litigation that refusing to take the shots after the RAR is denied undermines good order and discipline. In other words, a commander who pledges to defend the Constitution and the laws of the land will be considered insubordinate for requesting that the laws of the land be enforced. This is ironically sad. 

Service members who were previously discharged for refusing the shot will not be reinstated. However, they can now contact their discharge review board to request a correction to their personnel records, “including records regarding the characterization of their discharge.” 

Joe Biden strongly opposed repealing the mandate but signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 23, 2022. Section 525 of the NDAA requires the Secretary of Defense to rescind the mandate that members of the U.S. Armed Forces receive the COVID-19 shots. Sec. Austin issued a memorandum on August 24, 2021, directing all service members to receive the COVID shot. 

Liberty Counsel is scheduled for a trial on February 27, 2023, in federal court before Judge Steven Merryday in the pursuit of seeking permanent class action relief from the unlawful federal COVID shot mandate on behalf of those who currently serve in the United States Marine Corps. In August 2022, Judge Merryday issued a classwide preliminary injunction. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “These military heroes have sacrificed everything to defend America. Liberty Counsel continues to pursue a permanent injunction against the Department of Defense so that this abuse never again happens to our service members.” 

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