Republicans demand answers from Pentagon over denied vaccine exemptions

2G39DKE Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) holds a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol following a private visit to the Holocaust Museum, to express contrition for previous remarks about Jewish people, in Washington, U.S. June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Photo: Alamy

Multiple Republican lawmakers are demanding answers from the Pentagon over a leaked memo that revealed the Department of Defense (DoD) has been in “potential noncompliance” when reviewing religious exemptions for the Covid-19 vaccine.

In a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin this week, more than a dozen Republican lawmakers accused the DoD of engaging “in unlawful religious discrimination.” Republicans demanded documents pertaining to vaccine mandates be released, including a complete copy of the June 2 leaked memo, all records of religious exemption requests, and accommodations that have been approved by the Navy, Air Force, and Army.

The letter states:

“In summary, according to the DoD IG’s memo, the Department has engaged in unlawful religious discrimination. As members of Congress, we would like to request that the Department provide us with the following information no later than September 30th, 2022:

• A complete copy of the Department of Defense Inspector General’s June 2, 2022, memo.
• All records of religious accommodation requests regarding COVID-19 vaccinations
submitted to the Departments of the Navy, Air Force and Army.
• All religious accommodation requests approved by the Departments of the Navy, Air
Force and Army.
• Any DoD internal policy directives related to the review process for religious
accommodation requests regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.”

The letter comes after the DoD was found to be in “potential noncompliance” with their standards for reviewing religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate, The Epoch Times reported.

According to a June 2 memo, Acting Inspector General (IG) Sean W. O’Donnell claimed that 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” after reviewing complaints from servicemembers who had their religious accommodations denied.

The Sept. 19 letter to Austin claims that the DoD has overwhelmingly rejected most religious exemptions from 24,000 servicemembers.

“As of February 2022, the Department of the Navy had granted only a single, partial exemption to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on religious grounds, and as of July 2022 the Department of the U.S. Army had approved just 20 of over 8,000 requests, the Department of the Air Force had approved less than 130 of over 9,000 requests, and the U.S. Marines had only
approved 7 of over 3,700 requests. At least 75,000 troops face discharge because of the DoD’s vaccine mandate,” the letter reads.

Furthermore, of the few religious exemptions approved, most were reportedly for retiring servicemembers. The rate of approval for non-religious vaccine exemptions is also far higher than that of religious exemptions, the letter adds.

Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., are among the members of Congress who signed the letter.

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