Guidance reportedly crafted by military attorneys urged Coast Guard chaplains to grill service members on their religious beliefs in attempts to discover whether a service member’s religious exemption is a “ruse,” draft documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation show.
“It is important to provide context in the memo discussing the member’s belief,” the draft documents said. “If they come to the meeting and begin by discussing concerns about safety, politics, etc., note that in the memo. Even if the member eventually states that it is a belief based on religion, note their first expression and how they moved from non-religious beliefs to religious ones.”
“Note any comments made by the member that make it appear they are using the religious exemption as a ruse to avoid the vaccine,” the guidance continued.
The legal religious liberty organization First Liberty Institute obtained the documents from Coast Guard chaplains who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, First Liberty told the DCNF. General Counsel Mike Berry said that Coast Guard military attorneys produced the guidance and sent it to the chaplains.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, U.S. employers are required to accommodate their employee’s “sincerely held” religious beliefs — including potential religious objections to a vaccine.
“Across the entire DOD the services are requiring people who have a religious objection to the vaccine mandate, if they submit a request for a religious exemption, to undergo a series of what they’re calling interviews with medical providers and chaplains,” Berry said in a Thursday phone interview.
The First Liberty general counsel compared the documents to a “modern day Spanish Inquisition.”
“Legally, the only thing that’s required of a service member is just that they show that they have a sincerely held religious belief and that whatever the government is doing places a substantial burden on that religious belief,” Berry said. “So that’s all they have to show. And then after that, the burden completely shifts to the government to overcome that.”
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the DCNF.
“This is one of the worst Establishment Clause violations I have seen in my lifetime,” Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Roger Severino told the DCNF Thursday.
Severino, who served as the former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said that government bureaucrats “have no business being the arbiters of religious truth claims for any religion, let alone all religions.”
“These junior varsity inquisitors make atrocious theologians and their anti-religious freedom agenda is as clear as it is arrogant,” he added.
Under the draft guidance, chaplains are told to have members specifically describe how they “consistently keep the tenets of their faith” in their daily life and to “put the specific acts (or lack thereof) in the memo.”
“Ask whether the member is part of any particular religious faith,” the draft said. “If yes, ask whether their religious leaders have spoken on the issue and have taken a position one way or the other on the vaccine. If the member is not sure, ask whether the member wants to explore that question or discuss it with their faith leaders prior to continuing to pursue their request.”
The guidance also provides chaplains with “Table 1,” which contains a “sampling” of religious leaders condoning COVID-19 vaccination: Judaism, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Island, Evangelical Christianity, Hindu, Orthodox Christianity, and Mormonism.
“If the member indicates he/she is part of one of the following faiths, consult Table 1 and discuss with them the quotes from the religious leaders cited therein,” the guidance said. “Ask how their beliefs differ from those of the religious leaders. Note their response in the memo.”
Should a service member be Catholic, for example, the guidance suggests that the chaplain refer to the section “Catholic Christianity” on Table 1 and read a Vatican statement to the service member noting that it is “morally acceptable” to receive the vaccine.
If the service member is Muslim, the guidance suggests referring the service member to the “Islam” section of Table 1, which links to a March news report on 16 Minnesota imams getting vaccinated on camera “to make their message loud and clear.”