Sen. Rick Scott Leads Colleagues in Defending Religious Vaccine Exemptions for U.S. Military Members
December 5, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Rick Scott was joined by Senators Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to announce the Defending Religious Accommodations Act, requiring the Government Accountability Office to audit the military’s current process for evaluating and granting religious exemptions for vaccination requirements. Since the Department of Defense implemented its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, thousands of servicemembers citing religious objections have been discharged from the military for refusing the vaccine, and questions remain over the fairness and consistency of this process. Meanwhile, the military is facing a recruitment and readiness challenge reportedly underperforming by 23% of annual targets.
Senator Rick Scott said, “The military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has proven disastrous for America’s military readiness and needlessly destroyed the lives and careers of thousands of brave servicemembers. Our brave men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to protect this great country and the thought that their sincere religious concerns are not being handled with fairness and impartiality is infuriating. My bill, the Defending Religious Accommodations Act, will require the Government Accountability Office to immediately launch a full investigation into how requests for religious exemptions are being handled, and force the Biden administration’s appointees at the Pentagon to finally be held accountable. While our military is facing growing recruitment and retention issues, threatening America’s national security and military readiness, the last thing we need is more harmful bureaucracy hurting our military members. I want to thank Senators Braun, Lee and Rubio for supporting this good bill and urge the rest of our colleagues to do the same.”
Senator Mike Braun said, “Our servicemen and women deserve the respect of having their religious objections accommodated. At a time when our military is facing a recruitment challenge, we should not be turning away servicemembers because they have a religious objection to taking a COVID vaccine.”
Senator Mike Lee said, “I am proud to cosponsor this bill to ensure our religious servicemembers have the accommodations they need to practice their faith while serving our country. We must ensure our servicemembers have the same rights and accommodations they had before the pandemic began. The failure of the Biden administration to provide adequate religious accommodations to the members of our Armed Forces and their families is a clear violation and an indicator that this Administration does not take their sincerely held beliefs seriously. This is a critical step in protecting the rights enshrined in the First Amendment, and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Senator Marco Rubio said, “It is outrageous enough that the young men and women who want to serve our nation are required to be vaccinated. And it is arguably more outrageous that these selfless individuals are being forced to receive the vaccination against their religious beliefs. It’s time for the military to stop playing politics and focus on protecting our nation.”
The Defending Religious Accommodations Act would require the Government Accountability Office to take a deeper look into religious accommodations in the armed forces, to include the U.S. Coast Guard, and conduct an audit relating to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure all applicable laws, policies and guidance are followed. In addition, it would require:
- A determination of the reasons for mass denial of religious accommodations relating to COVID-19 within the armed forces;
- An analysis of the handling of medical and administrative requests when compared with the handling of religious accommodation requests relating to COVID-19;
- An analysis of the timeline of when the armed forces mandated servicemembers to take the FDA-approved vaccine and when it was available at military medical facilities;
- An analysis of the impact of the current levels of involuntary discharges on military readiness as compared to the impact COVID-19 had on military readiness;
- An analysis of the extent to which the vaccine mandate is negatively impacting recruiting efforts;
- An analysis of safe options the military could have adopted to retain servicemembers who had concerns about the vaccine; and
- An analysis of any retributions servicemembers experienced related to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.