Lawmakers Demand Accountability for U.S. Coast Guard

Oct 19, 2022

House Oversight Committee Republicans sent a letter to Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan demanding that the U.S. Coast Guard explain the process for reviewing religious accommodation exemption applications for the COVID shot mandate, including the use of a digital tool to assist in issuing blanket denials rather than focusing on each individual case as is required by Department of Defense (DOD) Directive. 

Fifteen members of Congress, led by James Comer, a ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform wrote, “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. 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.” 

As of February 4, 2022, the Coast Guard had received 1,308 requests for religious accommodations from the COVID shot mandate and initially denied 578 with no approvals on appeals. 

On June 2, 2022, 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 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 memo he 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.]’”

O’Donnell further writes, “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.” 

The Republican lawmakers refer to O’Donnell’s memo in their letter to Fagan. They wrote, “This analysis is unfortunately 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. While the USCG did charge a dedicated headquarters team with adjudicating over 1,300 requests for exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate and appeals, the system was set up to reject the applications and appeals.” 

They specifically address the fact that the Coast Guard used a computer form tool called the “Religious Accommodations Appeal Generator” (RAGG) to quickly generate “a dismissal letter populated with a predetermined reason why that argument was insufficient to overcome a denial.” 

“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. This Microsoft Access-based program permitted Coast Guard adjudicators to select from a pre-populated list of two dozen possible religious objections or noted defects that applicants had raised in the initial dismissal decision. Upon clicking the “Submit” button, the tool generated a dismissal letter populated with a predetermined reason why that argument was insufficient to overcome a denial. This tool permitted adjudicators to quickly dispose of appeals without considering their merits, even when legitimate defects in the initial decision were identified.” 

As a result, the legislators now request a staff-level briefing no later than October 25, 2022. 

“The USCG performs vital life-saving missions like rescuing people during Hurricane Ian. Unfortunately, some rescue swimmers will be discharged in 30 to 60 days because they were denied their requests for religious accommodation and their subsequent appeals. President Biden even called to personally thank USCG rescue swimmers for saving lives in Hurricane Ian, but he did not acknowledge their impending discharge because of the vaccine mandate. 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 USCG afford its service members fair adjudication before they face discharge.” 

Yesterday, Liberty Counsel filed a renewed motion to certify the entire class and for a classwide preliminary injunction from Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa on behalf of those members who currently serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and have been denied religious exemptions from the Department of Defense’s unlawful COVID shot mandate. Liberty Counsel’s plaintiffs are Coast Guard members who refuse to receive an injection that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs since all of the COVID shots are associated with aborted fetal cells. Their deadlines to become fully vaccinated have passed, and disciplinary actions have already commenced. Relief is needed now to prevent these military heroes from facing discharge, court martial, other life-altering disciplinary procedures, and termination. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard are violating federal law by denying the religious free exercise rights of service members from the COVID shot mandate. It is encouraging that some members of Congress are stepping up to hold them accountable for their abuse of these courageous service members.” 

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