(The Center Square)
The Undersecretary of the Navy ‘misrepresented material facts’ in his testimony during a congressional hearing, attorneys representing Navy and Navy service members who were sanctioned for failing to testify told The Center Square. received the COVID-19 vaccines due to religious objections.
His sworn testimony contradicts a report by the Department of Defense inspector general that the Navy was in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Florida. Last year, a federal judge chastised the DOD and the Marine Corps for refusing to grant Religious Accommodation Requests (RARs), adding that it was the court’s responsibility to uphold the law when generals would not.
During a hearing before the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Gaetz asked Erik Raven, Undersecretary and Chief Operating Officer and Chief Navy Officer, “the Navy has- she sent form letters in response to requests for “religious exemptions” from the DOD’s vaccine mandate.
Raven replied, “I should get back to you on that.”
“It’s really important,” Gaetz said. “The law requires an individual assessment of the application for religious exemption, does it not? »
Raven replied, “The process we went through there was a multi-tiered, individualized review.”
“Do you think there was an individualized examination?” Gaetz asked.
“Yes sir,” Raven said.
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“Well, the Inspector General disagrees with you,” he said, referring to a report that said RARs were not reviewed individually and the average length of each was 12 minutes.
“Does 12 minutes seem like enough time to make an individualized exemption request based on someone’s deeply held religious basis?” Gaetz asked.
Raven said the Navy took multiple exams up to Marine Corps headquarters that “resulted in 10 hours of exams” in many cases.
However, the DOD-IG report found “a trend toward generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment required by federal law and DoD and military service policies.”
According to the report, blanket denial memoranda were issued to Air Force and Navy service members, which did not “reflect an individualized analysis demonstrating that the senior military official considered all of the facts. and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request.” Instead, they included “similar, if not identical wording.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents Navy and Navy service members who have faced repercussions for not being vaccinated, told The Center Square: “The total lack of candor and the misrepresentation of material facts are troubling. The testimony presented to the committee is contradicted by the Inspector General’s report and the documents and sworn testimony presented in our ongoing litigation.
Related: Republicans furious after Biden defense officials admit they are still considering punishing troops who refused the COVID vaccine
Last September, Judge Steven Merryday of the U.S. District Court for the Tampa Division Intermediate District of Florida granted a class-wide preliminary injunction for serving and reserve Marines whose RARs were denied. Merryday said, “The record reveals the substantial likelihood of a systemic failure by the Marine Corps to meet the obligations established by RFRA.”
In an earlier decision, Merryday referred to the fact that the Marines were charged additional monthly rent for non-compliance and given two days’ notice to be released and ordered out of their military housing, which he said , “suggests retaliation and retaliation”.
He also argues that military leaders must comply with the RFRA, saying it applies to “everyone from the president to a forest ranger…from the chief justice of the United States to a probation officer…from the president from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a military recruiter – even if they don’t like it and even if they don’t agree with it. The free exercise clause and the RFRA are the law of the land. »
Gaetz also asked DOD Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros more than once if there was a plan “to reinstate the approximately 8,600 active duty military, reserves, and guard at their service point?”
Cisneros replied, “Politics is the same as it always has been. Service members are fired and they want to return to the service they can apply for.
“So the DOD doesn’t have an active plan to do proactive outreach to these people and get them back into the military?” Gaetz asked. Cisneros replied, “Our plan is the same as it always has been”, which Gaetz said meant “no plan”.
Related: How 4 Republican senators turned their backs on fired military for refusing COVID vaccine mandate
Staver told The Center Square, “The Department of Defense and senior military officers act as if they are above the law. They seem to care little or nothing about the truth, the law, and the dedicated military. Arrogant, lawless and abusive actions are the reason retention and recruitment have dropped at an alarming rate. There needs to be a complete transformation of the system starting with the Secretary of Defense and the top brass in the Pentagon.
Because the National Defense Authorization Act only required the DOD to rescind the vaccine warrant, lawsuits are pending for alleged RFRA violations.
Syndicated with permission from The central square.