MIL-OSI USA: Lankford Stands Up for Air Force Service Members Against Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

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US Senate News:

Source: United States Senator for Oklahoma James Lankford
05.24.22
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, III, to urge them to allow airmen separated from the US Air Force who decided not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and who were not granted a religious accommodation, to return to service. His letter comes after the Air Force has only approved 81 religious accommodations despite receiving more than 13,356 requests. Lankford sent a letter to the Secretary Austin and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro about the similar negative impacts of Biden’s vaccine mandate on the Navy Sailors.
Lankford wrote in his letter, “This complete disregard for the sincerely held religious beliefs of our nation’s airmen is unacceptable and unlawful. There is no Department of Defense exception to the Constitution or to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; under the law and DOD policy, service members are to be afforded the very same rights they have honorably sought to serve and protect. And as you likely know, correctly applying RFRA and current DOD instructions regarding religious liberty would not mandate that all religious accommodation requests are always approved. But it does require a fair evaluation… As you reexamine this issue, I hope you will agree that separating hundreds of airmen for their religious convictions is misguided, unlawful, and hurts our national security. At a time when our nation faces a growing number of daily threats, it is irresponsible for the Air Force to remove these airmen without just cause.”
Lankford continues to defend service members against Biden’s vaccine mandate. He recently joined Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and 12 of their colleagues to introduce the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2022. The bill counters the Biden Administration’s efforts to coerce and punish service members who decline the COVID-19 vaccine and introduces accountability measures in response to DOD efforts to undermine transparency.
Lankford introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which was ultimately solidified in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which Lankford supported and was signed into law. 
Regarding religious accommodations for service members, Lankford previously sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding to know why, despite 19,979 known requests for religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine, the Department had granted nearly zero religious accommodations among the service branches. The letter requested a response by February 1. When he did not receive a timely response, Lankford requested that the Acting Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General Sean O’Donnell conduct an audit of DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine exemption process, and the IG responded 10 days later that an audit would be conducted.
Lankford was joined by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and their colleagues to send a letter to Secretary Austin asking him to provide information on the number and nature of military discharges for not receiving a COVID vaccine.
You can read the full letter HERE and below:
Dear Secretary Austin and Secretary Kendall:
I am writing in regards to the concerning number of airmen who have been relieved or retired from the U.S. Air Force following the denial of COVID-19 vaccine religious accommodation requests. It is alarming to me and many of my fellow Oklahomans and Americans that so many of our nation’s airmen continue to be denied the very constitutional rights they are sworn to protect.
It has come to my attention that the Air Force has only approved 81 religious accommodations despite receiving more than 13,356 requests. To make matters worse, the Air Force has indicated that “to date, after denial of a religious accommodation request or appeal, 202 DAF Service members have retired and 250 DAF Service members have been administratively separated.” 
This complete disregard for the sincerely held religious beliefs of our nation’s airmen is unacceptable and unlawful. There is no Department of Defense exception to the Constitution or to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; under the law and DOD policy, service members are to be afforded the very same rights they have honorably sought to serve and protect. And as you likely know, correctly applying RFRA and current DOD instructions regarding religious liberty would not mandate that all religious accommodation requests are always approved. But it does require a fair evaluation.
Furthermore, American taxpayers and the US military have devoted considerable time and resources to train each of these airmen for their service.  During renewed wars of conquest on the European continent and continued great power competition in the Indo-Pacific, our country cannot afford for the Air Force to sacrifice our nation’s military readiness by capriciously dismissing airmen based on their religious convictions.
You may be aware that on March 28, 2022, US District Judge Reed O’Connor allowed a lawsuit brought by 35 sailors refusing inoculation on religious grounds to move forward as a class action lawsuit. With the US Navy pausing efforts to separate and discipline sailors refusing the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious objections, the Air Force should follow suit and uphold religious freedom protections to spare airmen from separation and discipline. Our men and women in uniform should not face disparate rules on this fundamental issue simply because they serve in the Air Force as opposed to the Navy.
As you reexamine this issue, I hope you will agree that separating hundreds of airmen for their religious convictions is misguided, unlawful, and hurts our national security. At a time when our nation faces a growing number of daily threats, it is irresponsible for the Air Force to remove these airmen without just cause. Continuing to relieve airmen following denied religious accommodation requests while the Navy discontinues such efforts unfairly punishes service members in the Air Force.  
I eagerly await your reply on what actions you will take to protect the religious liberties of our airmen.
In God We Trust, 

MIL OSI USA News