Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill on Wednesday to protect military academy cadets from punishment over declining the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Defending Freedoms of Conscience for Cadets and Midshipmen Act would keep cadets from being punished or refused commission over COVID-19 vaccine non-compliance.
“It is outrageous to punish young men and women who want nothing more than to serve their nation,” Rubio said. “These are the types of ridiculous, unnecessarily punitive measures that discourage patriotic Americans from joining the military. The Academy should stop playing politics and focus on preparing cadets and midshipmen for their future service.”
Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, a co-sponsor of the bill, also expressed his frustration over the Biden administration’s punishment of military academy cadets over the vaccine.
“Joe Biden’s outrageous and plain mean-spirited vaccine tyranny knows no bounds – now punishing aspiring heroes who have earned the honor of joining the officer ranks,” Marshall said. “I’m thankful to Senator Rubio for leading this effort to protect these patriotic Americans.”
Fellow co-sponsor and Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith referred to the current punishments as government overreach.
“The decision to end promising military careers solely based on a COVID vaccine seems punitive and another example of clumsy government overreach,” Hyde-Smith said in the statement.
“The cadets and midshipmen at our service academies are among the brightest in the country, and they shouldn’t be dismissed so flippantly,” she added.
The act would specifically clarify that cadets and midshipmen cannot be denied graduation for not being vaccinated against COVID-19, and prevent cadets and midshipmen from being dismissed from their service academy as a result of refusing to be vaccinated.
In addition, the newly proposed law would keep any cadet who is not allowed to commission due to their COVID-19 vaccination status from being subject to repayment claims.
The act follows the news of three U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine being informed that they will not receive a commission as military officers when they graduate, according to the academy.
Air Force Academy spokesman Dean Miller shared the information in a statement.
Miller said that the three cadets “will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated.”
A fourth cadet was previously listed among those excluded, but has since decided to be vaccinated in order to become an officer.
The Air Force is the only military academy currently refusing to commission cadets due to COVID-19 non-compliance, according to the Associated Press.
Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes the Air Force Academy, expressed his concern.
“I was extremely disappointed to hear that the United States Air Force Academy is planning to deny these four cadets the opportunity to graduate and serve our nation because of their request to uphold their tightly held religious beliefs,” Lamborn said in a statement.
“America was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which encompasses protecting the religious rights of the individual. That includes those who put on the uniform and volunteer to serve our nation. It is imperative that our military leaders uphold the constitutional rights of these cadets,” he added.