A Department of Defense Office of Inspector General report has revealed that the widespread denials of service members requests for religious exemptions to COVID vaccine mandates violates federal law.
The Gateway Pundit recently interviewed Lt. John Bowes on the denial of his request for a religious accommodation last year, a denial that has left Bowes, and many of the over 700 pilots who have filed religious exemptions, grounded.
Liberty Council shares the full IG memo here.
The Center Square reports:
Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin while the department continued to defend its position in court and as branches of the military sought to dishonorably discharge, punish and even evict from their housing service members who were in noncompliance with the vaccine mandate Austin issued last August.
O’Donnell’s June 2 memo also surfaced after federal judges have increasingly issued blistering rebukes of military leaders when granting class action status for plaintiffs in lawsuits filed in several states.
The memo was issued after the OID performed an audit of the U.S. military branches’ processing of COVID-19 exemption requests for active-duty service members to determine if they were in compliance with federal law and U.S. military regulations. The OIG found that they weren’t.
O’Donnell told Austin he was writing to inform him of “potential noncompliance with standards for reviewing and documenting the denial of religious accommodation requests of Service members identified through complaints submitted to my office.”
He said the DOD’s hotline received dozens of complaints from service members and his office found “a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies.”
He points out that blanket denial memorandums given to service members from the Air Force and the Navy didn’t “reflect an individualized analysis, demonstrating that the Senior Military Official considered the full range of facts and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request.” Instead, they included “similar, if not identical, wording,” following an example like one given in the Air Force: “I disapprove your request for exemption from vaccinations under the provisions of AFI 48-110, paragraph 2-6.b.3.”
He also said, “the volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning.”
In a press release, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Biden administration and the Department of Defense are violating federal law by denying the religious free exercise rights of service members from the COVID shot mandate. Our service members swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. Their oath to defend the Constitution and their willingness to give their lives for our freedom must not be illusory. The abuse must end.”
Liberty Counsel has been on the forefront of spearheading legal challenges for all Americans against COVID mandates.
Senator Josh Hawley sent a letter to Acting Inspector General O’Donnell on September 22, 2022 outlining his concerns.
These findings are alarming. If true, not only do they suggest that the military services failed to satisfy all legal and regulatory obligations when reviewing servicemembers’ requests for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. They also raise very serious concerns about the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s apparent failure to promulgate or enforce lawful guidance for reviewing such requests. This is not to mention concerns about Departmentleaders’ apparent attempt to conceal these failures. Indeed, it is not lost on me that you reportedly sent this memo on June 2, yet Congress is only now learning of it.
Servicemembers commit their lives to the defense of our nation. As part of that compact, they are assured they will have the right to petition the Department of Defense for exemptions to certain requirements that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. The Department’s apparent failure to honor that compact is a betrayal of those servicemembers’ trust. It also endangers our nation’s defense by forcing servicemembers and those considering joining the military to question whether this is really an institution to which they are comfortable dedicating their lives. This implication is particularly concerning now as the U.S. military struggles to meet recruiting goals.
Given the stakes at hand, it falls upon Congress to investigate how the U.S. military handled requests for religious exemptions. To that end, please provide the June 2 memo and all material associated with the investigation described in the June 2 memo to the Senate Armed Services Committee no later than September 30. Please modify such material only as required to safeguard servicemembers’ identities or other protected information. Please also provide any response from the Secretary or his staff to the June 2 memo. This material will allow the committee to conduct all appropriate oversight, including hearings.
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