EXCLUSIVE: A group of House Republicans is probing the Navy after uncovering evidence that the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) is keeping midshipmen from graduating if they sought religious accommodations to the Pentagon’s COVID vaccine mandate.
In a letter to Naval Vice Adm. Sean Buck Tuesday, lawmakers led by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., said denying diplomas to otherwise qualified midshipmen is a waste of the country’s four-year investment in those people and will hurt military readiness at a time when all service branches are having trouble with recruitment and retainment.
“Commandant of Midshipmen and their Judge Advocate General Officer (JAG) are denying Midshipmen from graduating due to their refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccination on religious grounds and are held as a delayed graduate until the injunction preventing the separation of Naval personnel is lifted,” the lawmakers charged.
A preliminary injunction issued by a district court in early 2022 delayed the ability of the Navy to separate unvaccinated service members seeking religious accommodations. The case, which is now a class-action lawsuit, is still in the courts.
The lawmakers said a constituent who is a current USNA student reported to them that they were denied a diploma after their religious accommodation request was rejected.
“We’re seeing massive people being kicked out of academies and kicked out of their military service, all for the reason of refusing the vaccine [for] religious exemptions. One, it’s completely un-American. And two, it is not the best for the safety and security of the American people,” Steube told Fox News Digital.
He noted that the USNA student’s inability to receive a diploma has set them “back significantly” as credits don’t easily transfer from the academy to other colleges. In addition, they put in four full years of time and effort, on the taxpayer dime, to no benefit of the U.S.
Steube also said that the vaccine mandate “absolutely” is impacting readiness and recruitment.
“And it is no coincidence that as they’ve made all of these atrocious decisions that individuals are not going to sign up,” said the congressman, who said one applicant in his district to the Air Force Academy pulled out due to the “woke” policies in the military that he disagreed with.
“[The military is] losing good candidates for the academies, and they’re losing good Americans who want to serve their country simply because they’re pushing wokeness and pronouns and transgenderism into our military, and they’re pushing vaccine mandates onto our military, which is affecting the safety and security of the American people,” continued Steube, who noted that he will not vote for the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if it promotes a vaccine mandate or woke policies.
A spokesperson for the Navy told Fox News Digital in a statement on Tuesday: “We are aware of the letter sent this afternoon by Congressman W. Gregory Steube and other Members of Congress, we are working on a formal response.”
The Navy did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for data on how many midshipmen seeking religious accommodation to the mandate have been denied diplomas.
President Joe Biden said in September that the pandemic is “over,” causing advocates on behalf of service members to question the Pentagon’s ongoing strict vaccine mandate.
Troop recruitment and retainment has suffered in part due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which is worrying lawmakers about the fighting “readiness” of the military.
“Denying diplomas to otherwise qualified midshipmen based solely on COVID-19 vaccination status would not only be a waste of our country’s four-year investment in midshipmen who are eager to serve our nation, but [it] could disrupt military readiness in a year that every branch had trouble recruiting,” Steube told Fox News Digital.
“The U.S. Naval Academy must provide full transparency of their process to deny diplomas due to the absurd COVID-19 vaccination mandate, including details of cases where midshipmen’s religious exemption requests were also denied,” he said.
The Navy also did not address Fox News Digital’s inquiry regarding how the denial of diplomas is affecting overall military readiness.
The letter comes after the Coast Guard Academy unenrolled seven cadets for failing to comply with the military’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate after their requests for religious exemptions were denied. Those cadets were ordered to leave campus.
The Pentagon’s watchdog said in September that the Department of Defense is in “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.