Pentagon’s ‘Broad Denial’ of Religious Vaccine Exemption Requests Prompts GOP Lawmakers to Demand Answers
More than a dozen Republican lawmakers called on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to answer questions following the release earlier this month of a leaked memo from the Pentagon watchdog that revealed a ” potential breach” of the law in the process of reviewing and denying requests for religious accommodation. to the mandate of the vaccine.
The June 2 memo from Acting Inspector General (IG) Sean W. O’Donnell states that after reviewing dozens of denials of religious accommodation requests, the IG’s office “found a trend toward generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment required by federal law and DoD and military service policies.
In a Sept. 19 letter to Austin, 15 lawmakers pointed to extremely low approval rates for requests for religious exemptions to the Department of Defense (DoD) vaccination mandate.
According to the most recent publicly available data, only 196 requests for religious accommodation have been approved out of more than 26,000 requests in the armed forces.
The lawmakers wrote that it was “particularly concerning” that most approved requests for religious accommodation were granted to service members who were due to retire, and that “all branches approved requests for exemption from non-religious vaccines at a much higher rate than religious exemptions”.
“This suggests that the DoD applies different policies to military applications based on their religious beliefs and expected employment status,” the letter said.
Referring to the memo, the lawmakers wrote that the “blanket denial” of religious accommodation requests violates DoD Instruction 1300.17 (pdf), which requires that each religious accommodation request be reviewed individually.
“In summary, according to the DoD IG memo, the Department engaged in unlawful religious discrimination,” the lawmakers wrote.
The findings of the IG memo came as no surprise to Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who signed the letter.
“The fact that the Department of Defense has not seriously considered religious exemptions is no surprise,” Higgins told The Epoch Times.
“We expected the Biden administration to have issued directives to force compliance with the vaccine mandate, and that was reflected in the nearly universal refusal rate.”
Another signing representative Doug Lamborn (R-Co.) described the findings as “extremely concerning.”
“The fact that religious exemption cases were not individually reviewed and only assessed for a maximum of 12 minutes on average is a gross violation of our military’s rights under the Restoration of Religious Freedom (RFRA),” Lamborn told The Epoch Times in an email. .
The Colorado congressman said he “will continue to work tirelessly with my colleagues in Congress to ensure the DoD respects the First Amendment rights of our men and women in the military above a illegal vaccine mandate”.
Members of Congress, in the letter, requested that various documents be provided by September 30. These include a complete copy of the IG memo dated June 2, all documents associated with Navy, Air Force and Army religious accommodation requests for COVID -19 vaccinations, as well as all internal DoD policy directives associated with the review of religious accommodation requests for vaccines.
“The COVID vaccine mandate has been detrimental to recruiting efforts and military readiness. It also turned out to be totally useless,” Higgins said. “All federal COVID mandates must be terminated, especially the nonsensical vaccination mandate of our Armed Forces,” he added.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Danny Erickson (a pseudonym), who originally posted parts of the leaked memo on his website, said the document proves Pentagon leadership is aware of the issue.
“We can no longer say that the [secretary of defense] did not know, [because] he has known since at least June 2,” Erickson told The Epoch Times.
For Erickson, “the most concerning thing about the IG’s letter to … Austin, and the DOD’s subsequent silence in response to its publication, is the blatant disregard for the law.”
“Congress faced [Austin]and now we will wait to see if he will respond or ignore the letter as he has with so many others sent in the past by members of Congress,” he added.
Erikson emphasized that his views do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army. The DoD did not respond to requests for comment.
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