Senator Lankford Demands DOD Take Immediate Action on Deplorable Living Conditions for Service Members with Religious Objections to COVID Vaccine

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senator James Lankford (R-OK), a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about concerns he has after reports surfaced revealing deplorable living conditions for service members who have religious objections to the COVID vaccine. Lankford has written to Secretary Austin several times to raise concerns about how the DoD has handled requests for religious accommodations to the COVID vaccine, and his letters have mostly gone unanswered.

Lankford writes in his letter, “The news reports that surfaced on August 24 detailing the horrific living conditions of sailors with religious objections to the vaccine warrant immediate attention. At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active distain for and hostility toward them.”

He continued, “Sailors recount being transferred to living quarters covered in mold, sewage, and with no access to clean or running water. One sailor testified to organisms living in the stagnant water that surrounds her bathroom. Photo evidence revealed unlivable conditions that no person should be subjected to, let alone our men and women in uniform. These conditions render that of an authoritarian and abusive government, which falls far below the standard of the military of the greatest nation on earth.

“I urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately take action to ensure that no service member is subjected to deplorable, illegal retribution for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs. I demand your swift action in auditing and remedying the working and living conditions of these sailors.”

Lankford has been working to defend service members against Biden’s vaccine mandate. He joined Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and 12 of their colleagues to introduce the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2022, and he introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which was ultimately solidified in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which Lankford supported and was signed into law.

Regarding religious accommodations for service members, Lankford previously sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding to know why, despite 19,979 known requests for religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine, the Department had granted nearly zero religious accommodations among the service branches. The letter requested a response by February 1. When he did not receive a timely response, Lankford requested that the Acting Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General Sean O’Donnell conduct an audit of DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine exemption process, and the IG responded 10 days later that an audit would be conducted.

You can read the full letter HERE and below:

Secretary Austin,

Once again, I am writing to you with time-sensitive requests and grave concerns over the treatment of service members who have religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Just when I thought the Department of Defense’s mistreatment of service members with religious objections to the vaccine could not get worse, it has. Although many of my previous letters appear to have been ignored, recent reports necessitate that I write again, as the living and employment conditions have worsened for service members being unfairly treated by the stringent and uneven vaccine mandate policies forced upon them by this Administration.

The news reports that surfaced on August 24 detailing the horrific living conditions of sailors with religious objections to the vaccine warrant immediate attention. At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active distain for and hostility toward them. 

While I can only hope that these reports are incorrect and that you have in fact not mistreated or discriminated against service members with religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccination by moving them to deplorable living conditions, and holding them there while the litigation surrounding their challenge to the COVID-19 accommodation process continues, I am extremely troubled by photos and reports detailing such actions. 

Sailors recount being transferred to living quarters covered in mold, sewage, and with no access to clean or running water. One sailor testified to organisms living in the stagnant water that surrounds her bathroom. Photo evidence revealed unlivable conditions that no person should be subjected to, let alone our men and women in uniform. These conditions render that of an authoritarian and abusive government, which falls far below the standard of the military of the greatest nation on earth.  

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately take action to ensure that no service member is subjected to deplorable, illegal retribution for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs. I demand your swift action in auditing and remedying the working and living conditions of these sailors. Specifically, I insist you verify all service members with pending religious accommodation requests are in appropriate living conditions and relocate those who are not.  Sailors who have bravely given years of service and sacrifice to our country do not deserve to be treated as if they are worthless just because they hold a religious belief with which the Commander in Chief may disagree.  

As I wrote to you in my last unanswered letter, the Navy’s treatment of religious service members is unconscionable, especially in light of their sacrifice in protecting our Constitution and the religious freedoms guaranteed by it. Rather than honoring their sacrifices and respecting their freedoms, your Department has time and again trampled on their rights with no respect to the oath, laws, and documents that govern its mandate. 

As each day passes, the COVID-19 vaccine is more irrelevant and the mandate is more oppressive. The mandate is clearly not about readiness, it is about compliance, even if it violates a service member’s sincerely held faith. 

I expect and look forward to your quick resolution of this matter. 

In God We Trust,

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