DOD Inspector General Issues Blistering Report on Religious Exemptions

Sep 16, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Acting Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) Sean O'Donnell sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that highlights the deliberate violation of federal law within the Department of Defense (DOD) as evidenced in actual denials of religious exemption requests from service members who refused the COVID-19 shot because of their religious beliefs. 

In O’Donnell’s June 2, 2022 memo, he informs Austin of “potential noncompliance with standards for reviewing and documenting the denial of religious accommodation requests of Service members identified through complaints submitted to my office. The Department of Defense Hotline received dozens of complaints regarding denied religious accommodation requests from Service members. We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies.” 

“The denial memorandums we reviewed generally did not reflect an individualized analysis, demonstrating that the Senior Military Official considered the full range of facts and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request. For example, an Air Force general denied one Airman's request with the brief statement: ‘I disapprove your request for exemption from vaccination under the provisions of AFI 48-110, paragraph 2-6.b.3.’” 

In actual religious exemption denial letters from the COVID shot mandate sent to service members from the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the U.S. Navy, every letter reveals similar, if not identical, wording.

In his memo to Austin, O’Donnell also cites DoD Instruction 1300.17 which states: 

“Religious Liberty in the Military Services’ paragraph 3.2.d requires that ‘officials charged with making recommendations or taking final action on a Service member’s request for the accommodation of religious practices will review each request individually, considering the full range of facts and circumstances relevant to the specific request…. The means that is least restrictive to the requestor’s religious practice and that does not impede a compelling governmental interest will be determinative [Emphasis added.]’” 

“Additionally, the volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning. The appeal authorities of the Services we reviewed indicated that an average of 50 denials per day were processed over a 90-day period. Assuming a 10-hour work day with no breaks or attention to other matters, the average review period was about 12 minutes for each package. Such a review period seems insufficient to process each request in an individualized manner and still perform the duties required of their position. We bring this to your attention for any action you deem appropriate to ensure that published guidance, including DoD Instruction 1300.17, ‘Religious Liberty in the Military Services,’ are followed when acting on requests for religious exemption from the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) vaccination requirements.” 

As a result of Liberty Counsel’s hearing on February 10 for Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden (now Austin), Judge Steven Merryday ordered each branch of the military to file a detailed report regarding religious exemptions from the COVID-19 shot every 14 days beginning Friday, January 7, 2022. The latest filings received by the court as of February 4, 2022, revealed that out of 24,818 religious exemption requests received, only four were granted, and three of those were questionable since as least two of those service members were already scheduled to leave the military. However, 4,146 medical exemptions have been granted. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Biden administration and the Department of Defense are violating federal law by denying the religious free exercise rights of service members from the COVID shot mandate. Our service members swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. Their oath to defend the Constitution and their willingness to give their lives for our freedom must not be illusory. The abuse must end.” 

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