EXCLUSIVE: The U.S. Coast Guard used a “digital tool” to illegally assist in mass denials of religious COVID-19 vaccine exemptions even though federal law and Pentagon policy requires an individualized analysis of every request, House Oversight Committee Republicans alleged in a letter exclusively shared with Fox News Digital.
Over one dozen lawmakers led by Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., and Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., are demanding a staff-level briefing to explain the process, which they claim was designed to reach “predetermined conclusions with the goal of rejecting applications.”
“Religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Despite these protections, information received by Committee Republicans indicates that the adjudication process for exemption applications was a pro forma exercise designed to reach predetermined conclusions—to deny requests and appeals—in nearly every single case,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Commandant Admiral Linda L. Fagan.
“The USCG even created a digital tool to assist in more efficiently denying appeals of the vaccine mandate instead of focusing on the merits of each individual case,” they said.
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As of September 23, the Coast Guard had approved 12 religious accommodations and denied 1,231, amounting to a near 99% denial rate.
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The letter comes after Fox News Digital first reported that the Pentagon’s Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell issued an internal memo that said the agency is in “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies,” the acting IG said in his report to the secretary of defense.
The Republicans wrote Tuesday that O’Donnell’s analysis is “unfortunately echoed by information obtained by Committee Republicans showing that USCG’s review system was similarly stood up to reach predetermined conclusions with the goal of rejecting applications.”
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The lawmakers said they learned that “computer-assisted technology” was used by Coast Guard leadership to deny “en masse” religious exemption requests, “indicating that no case-by-case determinations were taking place.” Notably, the program never had the option of reaching a decision to approve an exemption request.
Republicans also say a computer form tool called the “Religious Accommodations Appeal Generator” (RAGG) allowed the USCG to quickly generate “a dismissal letter populated with a predetermined reason why that argument was insufficient to overcome a denial.”
According to the RAAG, reviewed by Fox News Digital, the generator had pre-generated a blanket response to the top 25 anticipated arguments by guardsmen against receiving the vaccine.
“This tool permitted adjudicators to quickly dispose of appeals without considering their merits, even when legitimate defects in the initial decision were identified,” they said.
The Coast Guard acknowledged receipt of the lawmakers’ letter and said it is looking into the matter.
Fox News Digital previously reported the USCG was issuing “virtually identical” denials of religious accommodation requests and continuing involuntary terminations of unvaccinated service members, even though the country has moved on from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Alaric Stone told Fox News Digital in a recent interview that he submitted his first religious accommodation request last year, which was denied in January, and then an appeal, which was also denied in May. He said that denial was “virtually identical” to those of other unvaccinated service members, despite his mission and unit.
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As for any penalties he has endured since the denial of his appeal, Stone said he is not eligible for certain trainings and promotions that would advance his career.
A Coast Guard spokesperson previously denied to Fox News Digital that any members have been penalized for seeking religious accommodations.
“No Coast Guard members have been penalized for seeking religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Coast Guard policy prohibits taking retaliatory actions against a member for seeking a religious accommodation, and all religious accommodation requests are processed in accordance with standard agency guidance and policy,” the spokesperson said.
In addition, the spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital last month that it is in the process of discharging any members without approved exemption requests.
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“At the height of the pandemic, restrictions on training, travel and leave were implemented in order to protect the Coast Guard workforce and the public. These restrictions were applicable to all Coast Guard members and were at no time focused on members who had filed or were awaiting decision on religious accommodation requests,” said the Coast Guard spokesperson.
“The Coast Guard is in the process of discharging all military members who do not have an approved medical or administrative exemption or religious accommodation, and who have not followed the order to become vaccinated,” the spokesperson continued.