Four seniors at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, have been warned that their continued refusal to submit to COVID-19 vaccinations following denial of their religious exemption requests could result in not being allowed to graduate or be commissioned as officers. They may also have to repay between $200,000 and $400,000 in scholarships they have been granted to attend the academy.
The academy’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 25.
The four cadets, who entered the Academy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, have all voiced religious objections to receiving the vaccines due to their connection with the use of aborted fetal cells in the testing or creation of those vaccines, according to Fox News.
One former Air Force graduate, Gordon Klingenschmitt, has taken up the cadets’ cause, calling the Air Force’s stance a violation of their religious freedom.
“There is a religious purge against Christians in the military,” Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain and Colorado state representative, charged. “It starts at the top. The Biden administration is allowing this DOD policy…”
Klingenschmitt charges that the Academy’s superintendent, 3-star General Richard Clark, denied those exemption requests after promising in 2021 to protect the religious freedom of the cadets.
No other military academy has announced or taken similar action against any of their underclassmen for refusing to be vaccinated.
As The Daily Citizen has previously reported, the military branches have a problem with respect to religious freedom where COVID-19 vaccines are concerned. Several lawsuits have been filed, with courts granting various degrees of relief to servicemembers threatened with career-ending disciplinary action for refusing to receive a vaccination.
Some lower federal courts have granted injunctions protecting servicemembers. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has been reluctant to second-guess the military’s deployment and other decisions that might affect combat readiness.
But there appears to be more to the Air Force’s attitude toward religious exemptions than simply military readiness.
In an ongoing lawsuit in Ohio over this issue, a new court filing alleges that in October 2021, the Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, at a meeting of the service’s senior leaders – held, coincidentally, at the Air Force Academy – ordered all junior personnel, including chaplains, out of the conference room.
He, or his designees, according to the legal papers, then communicated to Air Force senior leaders that “no religious accommodations could or should be approved for anyone who would be remaining in the Department of the Air Force.”
The Air Force, according to the Ohio lawsuit originally brought by 18 airmen, as of May 10 has approved only 60 religious accommodation requests and disapproved 5,884, a 1% approval rate. And 369 active-duty airmen have been separated from the military to date because of their refusal to get the vaccine.
On the other hand, the Air Force has been much more forthcoming with other types of exemptions, including 1,013 medical exemptions and 1,273 administrative exemptions.
Those other exemptions, according to the lawsuit’s allegations, prove that the Air Force is not as concerned about preparedness and risk of infection as it argues it is to the court. And they also serve as proof of the service’s hostility toward the religious freedom rights of those servicemembers – whose religious exemption requests were rejected – under the First Amendment and the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The latest court filing in the Ohio case is a request from over 200 additional airmen to be added as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
It’s unknown yet whether the four at-risk Air Force Academy seniors will take legal action to protect their rights. Klingenschmitt organized a rally for the cadets at the south gate of the Academy last weekend.
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