Inspector General: Denying religious exemptions to service members who refuse COVID-19 vaccines violates federal law | National

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(The Heart Sq.) – A Division of Protection Workplace of Inspector Common report has discovered that officers within the U.S. army who issued widespread denials of spiritual exemption requests by service members who refused to take the COVID-19 pictures violated federal regulation.

Performing Inspector Common Sean O’Donnell despatched a memo to Secretary of Protection Lloyd Austin whereas the division continued to defend its place in court docket and as branches of the army sought to dishonorably discharge, punish and even evict from their housing service members who had been in noncompliance with the vaccine mandate Austin issued final August.

O’Donnell’s June 2 memo additionally surfaced after federal judges have more and more issued blistering rebukes of army leaders when granting class motion standing for plaintiffs in lawsuits filed in a number of states.

The memo was issued after the OID carried out an audit of the U.S. army branches’ processing of COVID-19 exemption requests for active-duty service members to find out in the event that they had been in compliance with federal regulation and U.S. army rules. The OIG discovered that they weren’t.

O’Donnell informed Austin he was writing to tell him of “potential noncompliance with requirements for reviewing and documenting the denial of spiritual lodging requests of Service members recognized by complaints submitted to my workplace.”

He mentioned the DOD’s hotline obtained dozens of complaints from service members and his workplace discovered “a pattern of generalized assessments reasonably than the individualized evaluation that’s required by Federal regulation and DoD and Navy Service insurance policies.”

He factors out that blanket denial memorandums given to service members from the Air Pressure and the Navy didn’t “mirror an individualized evaluation, demonstrating that the Senior Navy Official thought of the total vary of information and circumstances related to the actual non secular lodging request.” As a substitute, they included “comparable, if not equivalent, wording,” following an instance like one given within the Air Pressure: “I disapprove your request for exemption from vaccinations below the provisions of AFI 48-110, paragraph 2-6.b.3.”

The Spiritual Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the federal government from considerably burdening an individual’s train of faith until it “demonstrates that utility of the burden to the individual is in furtherance of a compelling governmental curiosity and is the least restrictive technique of furthering that compelling governmental curiosity,” O’Donnell argues.

U.S. Navy code requires officers to assessment every request individually, “contemplating the total vary of information and circumstances related to the particular request,” O’Donnell wrote. “The means that’s least restrictive to the requestor’s non secular apply and that doesn’t impede a compelling governmental curiosity can be determinative.”

He additionally mentioned, “the amount and fee at which choices had been made to disclaim requests is regarding.”

A mean of fifty denials had been issued a day, the OIG’s workplace discovered, in a greater than 90-day interval.

“Assuming a 10-hour workday with no breaks or consideration to different issues, the common assessment interval was about 12 minutes” for every enchantment submitted by a service member, he notes, which he says is “inadequate.”

The OIG’s findings had been per these of a federal decide in a lawsuit filed by the Orlando-based non secular freedom group, Liberty Counsel, in Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden (now Austin).

In February, Choose Steven Merryday ordered every department of the army to report the standing of spiritual exemptions filed each 14 days starting January 7, 2022. By February 4, of the 24,818 non secular exemption requests obtained, solely 4 had been granted.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver mentioned, “The Biden administration and the Division of Protection are violating federal regulation by denying the non secular free train rights of service members from the COVID shot mandate. Our service members swear an oath to defend the U.S. Structure. Their oath to defend the Structure and their willingness to provide their lives for our freedom should not be illusory. The abuse should finish.”

U.S. District Courtroom for the Center District of Georgia Choose Tilman Self, III, additionally mentioned earlier this 12 months that the Air Pressure’s declare that it was offering a non secular lodging course of, “proved to be nothing greater than a quixotic quest for Plaintiff as a result of it was ‘by all accounts, . . . theater.’”

Self calculated the share of spiritual exemption requests the Air Pressure granted was 0.24%.

In one other case, the Sixth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals handed the Biden administration one other blow when it upheld a ruling by a federal district court docket decide who granted class certification for all members of the Air Pressure.

“The Division of Protection’s Covid vaccine mandate is deleterious to readiness and the army’s potential to battle and win wars,” they argue. “The vaccine supplies negligible profit to the younger, match members of our Armed Forces, and the mandate’s imposition is clearly affecting the Division’s potential to maintain fight formations and recruit future expertise.”

Austin has not issued a public response to the memo or replied to the requests of the members of Congress. He and his administration preserve the mandate is crucial for mission readiness and have steadfastly defended their place in court docket. His administration has additionally argued that federal district judges don’t have jurisdiction to rule on army circumstances, an argument they’ve persistently misplaced.

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