EXCLUSIVE: Congressional Letter Urges Coast Guard to Grant Religious Exemptions
Seventeen members of the House of Representatives urged the Biden administration on Monday to revise “the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) policy regarding religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination order.” The letter, obtained by The Washington Stand, was led by Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and was addressed to President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and USCG Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan.
USCG’s COVID vaccination policy is strict and inflexible. “USCG servicemembers are expected to follow the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccination order requiring all servicemembers to receive an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Servicemembers that have not obtained a COVID-19 vaccine risk an involuntary administrative separation,” the representatives wrote. “This policy has resulted in hundreds of servicemembers from all branches getting involuntarily discharged.”
Currently, the USCG policy is harsher than that of other branches. While servicemembers in other branches have obtained class action exemptions, the suit against the Coast Guard is still pending. “To date, USCG has received over 1,200 religious exemption requests and has only accepted 12, amounting to a 99% denial rate,” the letter continued. “This blanket denial of religious accommodation is a clear violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). While this administration chooses to prioritize the USCG’s new focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is also denying servicemembers their most fundamental First Amendment right: the free exercise of religious belief.”
USCG’s policy of denying nearly all religious exemptions was highlighted and underlined in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. As the letter explained, “On September 30, 2022, the White House released a readout of the phone call with Aviation Survival Technician Second Class Zach Loesch. During this call, President Biden recognized Petty Officer Second Class Loesch’s heroic actions in saving a wheelchair-bound woman and her husband during a search and rescue mission following Hurricane Ian.”
“While the commander-in-chief has recognized Petty Officer Second Class Loesch’s outstanding bravery, Mr. Loesch is expecting to be involuntarily discharged for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccination despite requesting a religious exemption,” it continued. “If the USCG continues to enforce its unnecessary and unconstitutional vaccine mandates, talent like Petty Officer Second Class Loesch will be lost.”
The letter went on to argue that the situation is entirely unnecessary. The members of Congress wrote, “considering Joe Biden’s own admission that ‘the pandemic is over,’ these mandates are completely unnecessary and are not supported by anything resembling a scientific justification. On August 12, 2022, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) updated guidance removes the distinction between unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals exposed to COVID-19; the guidance also states that the COVID-19 vaccine does not prevent transmission or contraction.” Many argue that a servicemember’s vaccination status does not affect their performance of any duty, whether at home or while deployed.
Despite the waning pandemic, the termination of quality employees, unmet recruitment goals, and tepid poll numbers, neither President Biden nor any of his top military officials has once suggested that he might voluntarily countermand his COVID vaccine mandate for the military. With this letter, Republicans in Congress are piling on additional pressure. “Petty Officer Loesch signed up to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, which also guarantees the right to religious freedom. It is unacceptable that Joe Biden would allow this American hero to be fired weeks after calling him to thank him for saving lives in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s devastation,” said Congressman Boebert.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.