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Press Release Published: Oct 18, 2022

Oversight Republicans Raise Concerns Over Coast Guard Denying Members’ Religious Exemptions to the COVID Vaccine

Request an immediate briefing following information indicating USCG denied virtually all religious exemption requests 

WASHINGTON – Today, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), Representative Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), and Oversight Committee Republicans sent a letter to Admiral Linda L. Fagan, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), expressing serious concerns over USCG’s apparent failure to provide due process to members requesting religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Information received by Committee Republicans show the USCG denied nearly every applicant seeking a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate and the lawmakers are now requesting a staff-level briefing to understand the Coast Guard’s application review process which has deprived over 1,300 members of a fair adjudication of their exemption request.

“Religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Despite these protections, information received by Committee Republicans indicates that the adjudication process for exemption applications was a pro forma exercise designed to reach predetermined conclusions—to deny requests and appeals—in nearly every single case,” wrote the Republican lawmakers. “The USCG even created a digital tool to assist in more efficiently denying appeals of the vaccine mandate instead of focusing on the merits of each individual case. Regardless of the ultimate decision to approve or deny these requests, the USCG and the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces must afford members the opportunity to have their religious accommodations claim heard on the merits along with the right to appeal an adverse decision.” 

On June 2, 2022, Department of Defense Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote an internal memo emphasizing that USCG decisions were being made to deny requests at an alarmingly fast rate. This analysis is echoed by information obtained by Committee Republicans showing that USCG’s review system was similarly stood up to reach predetermined conclusions with the goal of rejecting applications. 

“Committee Republicans have learned that the USCG denied virtually all religious exemption requests and dismissed appeals en masse with the help of computer-assisted technology, indicating that no case-by-case determinations were taking place,” continued the Republican lawmakers. “Just as troubling, appeals of initial denials were denied with the assistance of a computer-generated form-filler tool called the ‘Religious Accommodations Appeal Generator,’ or RAAG. The USCG performs vital life-saving missions like rescuing people during Hurricane Ian. In light of the USCG not meeting its recruiting goals since 2018 and the urgency for rescue swimmers to save lives during natural disasters like Hurricane Ian, it is essential that the USCGafford its service members fair adjudication before they face discharge. To assist Committee Republicans in conducting oversight over USCG’s apparent failure to provide due process to members requesting religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, we request a staff-level briefing as soon as possible.” 

Read the letter here.