A conservative Christian legal aid group says it is being overwhelmed by inquiries from U.S. troops who worry they will be dishonorably discharged for not complying with President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in carrying out Biden’s directive, issued a memo in August calling for “full vaccination of all members of the armed forces,” including active-duty troops, reservists, and National Guard members. At the time the Pentagon had 800,000 troops who had not gotten the jab.
Liberty Counsel, the legal aid organization, said in a recent press release that it has been “inundated with heart-rending pleas for help from military members who are being ordered to get the COVID shots or face discipline, including solitary confinement and a dishonorable discharge.”
Mat Staver, the group’s founder, and chairman, said in a statement, “Never in Liberty Counsel’s 31-year history have we faced such a crisis.”
As one example Liberty Counsel highlighted the case of an unidentified U.S. Marine Corps corporal who served in Afghanistan and has been diagnosed with heart arrhythmia and a right bundle branch blockage.
“Taking the shot isn’t an option for this Marine due to the side effects of blood clots and heart inflammation being seen,” Liberty Counsel said in the release, noting that studies have shown the vaccines can cause heart problems.
The Marine was told a medical waiver was an option only if the condition was congenital heart failure, and that there were no religious exemptions.
Liberty Counsel noted the corporal faces a dishonorable discharge, the punishment for which includes a general court-martial, six months imprisonment, as well as loss of any Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.
Liberty Counsel also spotlighted an unidentified U.S. Air Force reservist who was scheduled to retire on Dec. 1 after 29 years of service.
The reservist filed for a religious exemption and noted his pending retirement as an additional reason to not get vaccinated. Liberty Counsel reported that he was “berated and bullied by the base commander to get the shot.” He also faces a dishonorable discharge for not complying.
A group of Republican lawmakers – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama – filed a bill to preclude troops who decline the vaccine from being dishonorably discharged.
In response, the Biden administration announced in a statement that it “strongly opposes” that provision, since it “would detract from readiness and limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination.”
Liberty Counsel countered that Biden’s “orders are not lawful,” violating both the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Thousands of military service members are being forced to make a major life-altering decision regarding their health. American heroes should not be treated as felons because of their personal medical choices,” Liberty Counsel said in its statement.
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