Air Force Academy Cadets Who Refused Vaccine and Denied Waiver Could Be Deported | Content reserved for subscribers
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify statements about the approval of Air Force Academy religious accommodation requests and the ability of senior cadets to meet vaccination requirements while graduating. and receiving their commissions.
After their requests for religion-based exemptions to a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate were denied by the US Air Force Academy, more than a dozen cadets from the school remain in the limbo and face an “administrative separation”, an action that could effectively “dismiss”. from the military, add a letter of reprimand to their records and – for some – mean they are required to repay nearly $200,000 in government tuition.
Four of those cadets — “firsts” or seniors — won’t be able to join their classmates for the May 25 graduation ceremony at the academy’s campus north of Colorado Springs, the attorney representing three said Friday. of them.
“I believe that if someone changed their mind (about getting the vaccine), they could end up getting commissioned, graduating late, and not being separated from the Air Force…however, it has a limited time to make this decision. , and we’re running out of time,” said Mike Rose, the South Carolina attorney and 1969 AFA graduate representing three of the seniors.
The Air Force Academy requires all cadets to have received a full course of the two-dose vaccine by August 2. There is a required interval of eight weeks between each injection. That, Rose said, means they’re technically “out of time” already.
On Saturday, however, the academy’s media relations chief, Dean J. Miller, said seniors “are not short on time. If they start a vaccination schedule and commit to completing it on schedule from the FDA, they can graduate and get a commission.” He also said the cadets were told they could do it a week ago.
“If cadets choose to remain unvaccinated, they could be expelled from the Academy,” said Director of Public Affairs Lt. Col. Brian Maguire. Consequences, including tuition reimbursement, are a “decision (who) will be made after a decision to unenroll has been made.”
Of the 13 AFA cadets who applied for waivers and did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine, he said four are seniors, two are juniors, one is a sophomore and six are juniors. first year students. All requested a religious exemption, which was denied. Their appeals were also dismissed.
“As each religious exemption is handled on a case-by-case basis, I cannot speculate on what would result in a religious exemption being approved,” Maguire said. “We continue to ensure that the religious accommodation waiver process adheres to Department of Defense and Department of the Air Force guidelines and respects each cadet’s religious rights.”
In August of last year, the Pentagon made vaccinations mandatory for all service members, including cadets and those in ROTC programs. He also said waivers would be granted to those with a good reason, medical or religious. So far, few religion-based exemptions have been approved, across all branches of the military.
In January, the Air Force approved its first vaccine exemptions on religious grounds, granting nine waivers.
Vaccinations are part of the course in the Army and at the Air Force Academy, where, in addition to basic vaccinations, cadets must get a flu shot every year.
The few who have chosen not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine say it is the nature of the serum’s creation that goes wrong with their faith.
“As a chaplain, I stand up for people’s religious freedom,” said former Colorado State Representative Gordon Klingenschmitt, who graduated from the academy in 1991 and now leads an evangelical ministry in Springs. “They are evangelical Christian cadets, who are pro-life, and they object to the fact that vaccines have been tested on aborted fetal stem cell lines. Because of their objection to abortion, their conscience will not let them…inject this particular drug into their own bodies.
“That’s why they won’t take the vaccine,” he said. “It’s not because they all hate vaccines.”
Klingenschmitt said the “retaliation” against cadets who requested religious waivers goes against a promise made by AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark shortly after entering force of the policy in September 2021, during an academy meeting, in front of a crowd of hundreds.
“I took a public microphone and said, ‘Do you want to defend the religious cadets who refuse the vaccine? He said “Absolutely, chaplain,” Klingenschmitt said. “In December, he did the opposite.”
Attorney Mike Rose said all of his clients had submitted waiver requests which were first approved by the AFA chaplain.
“That’s another question: why don’t the chaplains, the religious leaders make this decision, rather than the superintendent?” Rose said.
However, Miller denied on Saturday that the academy’s chaplain has approved religious accommodation requests, explaining that only the superintendent has approval authority at the academy, with appeal authority held by the surgeon general. of the Air Force.
The academy said the consequences of cadets’ decisions to avoid the vaccine are not punishment for their beliefs. It’s the result of defying an order.
Lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit on behalf of the Navy SEALs led by the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, are ongoing nationwide and military. A number of lawmakers have also taken up the fight, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, RN.J., who introduced a bill that would reinstate any service member fired because of their vaccination status.
“I just spoke with the grandfather of a first, who said ‘If my grandson won’t be allowed to graduate but he’s still in Air Force limbo until the 2 August, he unfortunately has to cancel his marriage on June 11 because cadets cannot be married until they graduate. “,” Klingenschmitt said. “Can you imagine how heartbroken his bride is?”