When President Biden declared on “60 Minutes” last week, “The pandemic is over,” he made more of an observation than a declaration. The vast majority of Americans left COVID fear and restrictions behind long ago and have gone back to living their lives in much the same way as they did before 2020.
Yet not everyone has been able to move on. On September 23, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, allegedly discharged seven cadets after denying their requests for religious exemptions to the military’s COVID vaccine mandate. Now, two highly-decorated retired admirals are demanding to know why.
All between the ages of 18 and 22, the cadets say when their religious exemption appeals were denied on August 18, they were told they must leave campus in less than 24 hours or face being escorted off the grounds by guards. This forced two, who did not have homes to which they could return, to respectively live out of a car and find refuge with another cadet’s family.
“When I tried to explain that I did not have a good home life, and was in tears about having to return to my family, I was simply [asked], ‘Why hadn’t you thought before of what to do if this happened?’” one of the cadets, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Wire. “They told me I needed to patch it up with my family. I was not given any support or offered additional housing opportunities.” When she later contacted the Academy to let them know her family was not, as she’d expected, willing to take her in, she says it took the Academy two days to respond, and then only to tell her to “be ready to engage local law enforcement if needed.”
As the Academy allegedly did not provide the cadets with money for travel, they were obliged to charge hundreds of dollars in unexpected expenses to their credit cards, leaving them in dire financial straits while they waited for reimbursements they say they have yet to receive. They then lived in limbo for over a month after their sudden disenrollment, unclear if they could pursue jobs or other education as they waited to find out their fate with the Coast Guard.
All of this treatment, Ret. Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee and Ret. Rear Admiral Pete Brown tell The Daily Wire, is unacceptable.
Brown, himself an Academy graduate and former instructor, says it’s becoming harder to be proud of the military branch he served. “The core values on which the Coast Guard ought to be operating are respect and devotion to duty,” he says. “And these are young folks [who] really have a service orientation. They’re trying to do for the country, not trying to take from the country. And that opportunity is now being denied to them for reasons that truly seem arbitrary and capricious.”
Lee, who served as director for the Department of Homeland Security’s Task Force East joint interagency Maritime Counter Narcotics and Alien Migration mission, says the president’s recent comments make the decision even more indefensible.
“When the commander-in-chief himself says the pandemic is over, it’s time to let loose of this stuff and stop talking about it. Stop discharging trained people who want to serve, who are ready to serve. And let’s stop creating these gaps because the gaps equal reduction in readiness,” he says.
Lee points out that one of the cadets, a black, Haitian immigrant, was set to be honored with an award for exemplary leadership, as voted on by his peers. He received the news in an email following his disenrollment. Now that he’s been discharged, he will never receive it.
“That this young man was elected for that leadership award by his company is a big deal,” Lee says. “You get voted by your peers if you actually have leadership capability. So is the argument, ‘While we find him to be an extraordinarily capable and suitable leader, we find him unsuitable for military service because he won’t take a shot that is unnecessary and won’t even prevent the disease, as we now know?’”
The Coast Guard’s actions mark a striking difference from other service academies like West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy, which have allowed officers-in-training to remain while the issue makes its way through the courts.
Already, three federal courts have issued injunctions prohibiting the Air Force, Marines, and Navy from penalizing their service members who have outstanding religious exemption requests. Most recently, in September, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the federal government’s request to overturn a lower court order protecting Air Force service members from facing disciplinary action over faith-based refusals to take the vaccine. This likely led to the Marines and Navy deciding to rescind their policies of penalizing service members for claiming religious exemptions.
Even the Department of Defense Inspector General has acknowledged potential legal issues with the vaccine mandate. In a leaked memo, acting DoD Inspector General Sean O’Donnell conceded that the department is potentially violating religious liberty protections by rejecting service members’ objections to getting vaccinated. This was something 47 Republicans in Congress highlighted when they urged the DoD to “immediately revoke” the vaccine mandate for service members.
The cadets cite a variety of reasons for seeking religious exemptions. One takes issue with the fact that the vaccines were developed with the aid of abortion-derived cell lines. Another says that Christians are biblically obligated to treat their bodies as temples, so taking taking a vaccine that has rare but well-documented side effects to provide only limited protection against a virus that poses almost no risk to young, healthy individuals makes little sense. The cadets say that they all provided the Academy with signed determinations from military chaplains that their religious objections are sincere.
Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Kirk Milhoan, who also holds a Ph.D. in cardiovascular inflammation, says such objections are not just sincere, but reasonable.
Milhoan says 18 to 22-year-old males not only face the highest risk category of cardiac effects from the vaccine but this is especially true for athletic young men one would tend to find in the military service.
“There is a paper out from the national meeting of the American Heart Association in cell research that shows that the spike protein is a cardiac toxin. So the vaccine is now a known cardiac toxin. Do you want to give cardiac toxins to those who have a very, very low risk from the virus?”
Milhoan says while young women don’t have the same increased risk as young men, their likelihood of adverse reactions is still elevated as compared to the general population. Finally, he argues that as the federal government has now acknowledged the waning efficiency of the vaccine in preventing infection or spread of COVID, there’s even less reason not to respect religious objections.
Lee says he has been trying to get answers through official channels but has been rebuffed. His first email to Admiral Linda L. Fagan, who serves as commandant of the Coast Guard, went unanswered for a week until an assistant replied that she was on extended travel and would respond in a week or so — a reply Lee interprets as a brush off. He says he doesn’t want to throw rocks at his fellow service members, he only wants to advocate for the seven cadets who have no voice. “They have been singled out and expelled from the only U.S. military academy not willing to wait for the courts to sort this whole mandatory vaccine mess out,” he argues.
The Daily Wire reached out to the Coast Guard Academy but did not receive a response in time for publication.
What Lee suspects is that this decision is evidence of the armed forces becoming politicized. “I fear that the leaders of my former service have become minions and puppets of the administration, driven, in this case, by the Secretary of Homeland Security,” he says. “I say this because we have always remained in lock-step with our sister services on these matters…deviation on this one makes no logical sense.
The cadets’ discharge comes as other academies are embracing the progressive priorities of the Biden administration. On September 22, news broke that the Air Force Academy is instructing its cadets in “gender-neutral language” and to avoid terms like “mom and dad” and “boyfriend or girlfriend.” Many believe it is this kind of focus on politics rather than military readiness that has led to a recruitment crisis, along with a precipitous drop in public trust.
“The church of woke-ology is alive and well in the United States military armed services,” Lee says. “Thou shalt worship at the altar or be persecuted.”