Coast Guard discharging unvaxxed members, allegedly denying promotions despite religious exemption requests

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The U.S. Coast Guard has denied guardsmen religious accommodation requests and is still taking action to keep unvaccinated service members from being promoted and trained, while continuing involuntary terminations, despite the country moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 16 by the Thomas More Society against the Coast Guard and other government agencies on behalf of a class of over 1,200 service members seeking religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, the organization alleges that the Coast Guard is “categorically denying virtually all” religious accommodation requests.

Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Alaric Stone told Fox News Digital in an interview that he had 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 his denial was “virtually identical” to those of other unvaccinated service members, despite his mission and unit.

A Coast Guard spokesperson denied 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 told Fox News Digital.

Plaintiff attorneys allege that the Coast Guard is "categorically denying virtually all" religious accommodation requests.

Plaintiff attorneys allege that the Coast Guard is "categorically denying virtually all" religious accommodation requests. (U.S. Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet )

Stone said he had “successfully served on board one of the highest up-tempo units within the Coast Guard without any COVID disruptions whatsoever. You know, I never missed a single day of work during the entire period,” which he mentioned in his accommodation request.

As for any penalties he’s endured since the denial of his appeal, Stone said he’s not eligible for certain trainings and promotions that would advance his career.

“I’ve been denied training several times. Training is directly associated with duties that I’m meant to be filling in the billets that I’m in. You know, this puts me at a pretty significant disadvantage, because, you know, I have certain tasks and jobs that I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m not necessarily getting the formal training that is supposed to go along with those,” said Stone, who graduated at the top of his Coast Guard class in 2016.

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Stone noted that despite the punishments he personally faces, he “by no means” has received the “harshest punishments” facing other guardsmen, including involuntary separation from the military.

A spokesperson for the Coast Guard confirmed to Fox News Digital that it is in the process of discharging any members without approved exemption requests.

“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.

The Coast Guard received over 1,200 accommodation requests and only accepted 12 total, all of whom were already in the process of retiring or separating from the military, plaintiff attorneys said. That amounts to a 99% denial rate.

“I’m already aware of one service member who, as of Monday this week, was discharged for being unvaccinated and standing up for his religious beliefs. And I personally know of dozens more who stand to be discharged in actually just the coming weeks,” Stone told Fox News Digital. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on July 20, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on July 20, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“The White House proclaimed the pandemic is over, but as the Pentagon just reiterated, the purge continues, as they systematically drive out of the Coast Guard [and all branches of the military] the best and the brightest, like LTJG Stone and our other plaintiffs,” Steve Crampton, one of the plaintiff attorneys, told Fox News Digital.

“Meanwhile, they use cookie-cutter form denial letters citing nonsensical excuses for their religious discrimination. For example, they told LTJG Stone that he was not ‘worldwide deployable’ due to his unvaccinated status, despite the fact that he had just completed four worldwide deployments, during which time he missed not a single day of work while no less than 12% of his fully vaccinated shipmates were quarantined with COVID,” Crampton continued. 

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Boatswain Mate 1st Class Eric Jackson was also denied a religious accommodation request and appeal.

The Coast Guard in Jackson’s final denial letter said that his unvaccinated status was inconsistent with the Coast Guard’s interest in “a ready military workforce,” ignoring a statement by his commander that his ship would still be able to “maintain mission readiness with no hindrance to operations” if Jackson was granted religious accommodation.

The new hats and shoulder bars for graduates sit on a table before the start of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's 141st Commencement Exercises in New London, Connecticut, on May 18, 2022.

The new hats and shoulder bars for graduates sit on a table before the start of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s 141st Commencement Exercises in New London, Connecticut, on May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn, File)

The Pentagon’s watchdog said the Department of Defense is in “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to a report obtained by Fox News Digital last week. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security but says its religious accommodation process is similar to the DoD’s.

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“The Coast Guard issued service-wide policy regarding requests for religious accommodation last summer. Although the Coast Guard’s religious accommodation process is similar to that of the DoD’s, it is a separate process,” said the spokesperson. “The Coast Guard carefully reviews and processes any member’s request for a religious accommodation on a case-by-case basis. This process follows Coast Guard policy applicable to all religious accommodation requests.”

U.S. Coast Guard personnel and members of the media.

U.S. Coast Guard personnel and members of the media. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It has been reported recently that the Coast Guard Academy disenrolled seven cadets for failing to comply with the military’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, after their requests for religious exemptions were denied and they were ordered to leave campus.

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The academy in New London, Connecticut, confirmed the disenrollments on Sept. 1, and a lawyer for several of the cadets said they were told on Aug. 18 that they had to leave campus by 4 p.m. the next day.

The cadets’ names have not been released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.