Exclusive: House Oversight Committee Republicans claimed in a letter shared exclusively with Fox News Digital that the U.S. Coast Guard illegally assisted in the mass denial of religious COVID-19 vaccine exemptions despite the fact that federal law and Pentagon policy require an individual analysis of each request.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., and more than a dozen other legislators, led by Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., claiming the process was created to “achieve predetermined conclusions with the intention of denying applications,” are demanding a staff-level briefing.
Both federal law and the U.S. Constitution provide religious freedom. The adjudication procedure for exemption applications was a pro forma exercise meant to reach predetermined conclusions—to deny requests and appeals—in nearly every case, the congressmen stated in a letter to Commandant Admiral Linda L. Fagan, despite these protections.
They added that rather than concentrating on the merits of each individual case, “The USCG even devised a software tool to assist in more effectively refusing appeals of the vaccine mandate.”
Unvaccinated Coast Guard personnel were discharged, and promotions were allegedly denied despite requests for religious exemptions.
The Coast Guard has rejected 1,231 requests for religious accommodations as of September 23 while only approving 12 of them, for a denial rate that was almost 99%.
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The letter was written in response to a story by Fox News Digital that the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Sean O’Donnell, had written an internal memo alleging “possible noncompliance” with procedures for considering and refusing religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
The acting IG stated in his report to the secretary of defense that “we discovered a pattern of broad assessments rather than the customized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service standards.”
In a letter to the committee on Tuesday, the Republicans stated that O’Donnell’s analysis is “sadly echoed by material obtained by Committee Republicans revealing that USCG’s review system was similarly put up to reach predetermined findings with the objective of denying applications.”
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The MPs claimed they found out that the Coast Guard’s leadership utilized “computer-assisted technology” to reject petitions for religious exemptions “en masse,” showing that “no case-by-case determinations were taking place.” Notably, the program was never given the chance to decide whether to grant a request for an exemption.
Republicans claim that the USCG was able to swiftly create “a dismissal letter populated with a predefined rationale why that argument was insufficient to overcome a refusal” using a computer form tool called the “Religious Accommodations Appeal Generator” (RAGG), according to them.
According to the RAAG, which Fox News Digital examined, the generator had already pre-generated a response to the top 25 reasons guardsmen would give for not getting the vaccine.
Even when actual errors in the initial decision were found, they observed, “this technology empowered adjudicators to quickly dispose of appeals without examining their merits.”
The Coast Guard stated that it has received the MPs’ letter and is investigating the situation.
Fox News Digital previously revealed that despite the nation having recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, the USCG was still issuing “essentially similar” denials of requests for religious accommodations and maintaining involuntary terminations of unvaccinated service members.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Alaric Stone recently spoke with Fox News Digital about his first religious accommodation request from last year, which was turned down in January, and his subsequent appeal, which was also turned down in May. Despite his assignment and unit, he claimed that his denial was “essentially identical” to those of other unvaccinated service personnel.
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Stone claimed he had not been eligible for some trainings and promotions that would progress his career as punishment for the rejection of his appeal.
Prior until this, a representative for the Coast Guard denied to Fox News Digital that any personnel had suffered consequences for requesting religious accommodations.
There have been no consequences for Coast Guard personnel who have requested religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement. Retaliation against a member who wants a religious accommodation is forbidden by Coast Guard policy, and all requests are handled in accordance with general agency guidelines and policy, the representative added.
Additionally, the official previously told Fox News Digital that any members who have not had their exemption requests approved are already being discharged.