Rep. Lamborn asks Air Force Academy to let cadets refusing COVID vaccine graduate

Four cadets at the Air Force Academy may not graduate or be commissioned as military officers this month because they have refused the COVID-19 vaccine.
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 8:48 AM MDT|Updated: May. 18, 2022 at 10:58 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is expressing his dismay that a small number of Air Force Academy cadets may not be allowed to graduate because of their refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I was extremely disappointed to hear that the United States Air Force Academy is planning to deny these ... cadets the opportunity to graduate and serve our nation because of their request to uphold their tightly held religious beliefs,” Lamborn said in a letter to the AFA superintendent Tuesday, asking him to change his mind.

The Pentagon made the COVID vaccine mandatory for all service members last year, including those at military academies. Military leaders have pointed out that there is nothing unique about this requirement; the Department of Defense currently requires at least nine vaccinations for people entering the military, and up to 17 depending on the service member’s job or where/if they are deploying.

According to a report by the Associated Press, very few military members sought religious exemptions to any vaccines until the COVID-19 shot.

Originally, four members of the Air Force Academy’s senior class refused the COVID vaccine, leaving them at risk of not being able to graduate or be commissioned, as well as pay back thousands of dollars in tuition if nothing changed before graduation day on May 25. A spokesperson for the academy says that one of the four finally decided to get the vaccine and another submitted paperwork to resign from the school, leaving two cadets at a stalemate over the vaccine graduation policy.

The AFA is the only military academy currently facing this issue with its Class of 2022.

The academy released a statement to 11 News Wednesday:

“Two senior cadets are refusing to obey the Secretary of Defense’s lawful order from August 2021 to receive vaccination against COVID-19. This vaccine requirement is in addition to the eight other vaccines required of all individuals for accession into the military. This refusal, if it continues, may impact their ability to graduate and commission. Cadets with health and religious concerns were given the opportunity to follow Air Force policy in requesting accommodation based on their faith traditions or medical condition. Part of that religious accommodation process included an interview with a chaplain who determined if the cadet had a sincerely held religious belief. However, even if an individual holds a sincerely held religious belief, the decision authority, in this instance the Superintendent, must weigh that belief against the compelling government interest of ensuring a safe and ready force – crucial to meet global deployment responsibilities.

“We provided resources and information to the cadets in order to make a decision and graduate with the Class of 2022. The majority of our religious accommodation requests centered on the use of stem cells in the development and/or production of the currently available vaccines. There are vaccines available that did not use stem cells in the development, testing or production, which was presented as an option. The cadets refused to commit to this vaccine. Another USAFA staff member used their own resources to obtain the Novavax vaccine and is now in compliance with DoD policy. We have taken every step and continued to work to protect the religious freedom of our cadets and staff. These cadets are not out of time. If they start a vaccine regimen and commit to finishing it according to the FDA/CDC recommendations, they can graduate and commission with the rest of the class on May 25. They must be fully vaccinated by Aug. 1. We want to see these cadets graduate and commission, but they must meet the military requirements necessary for a ready force.”

Lamborn says the AFA’s refusal to let the cadets graduate sans vaccine is violating their First Amendment rights.

“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.”

The congressman has been fighting the military COVID vaccine mandate for the last six months.

His full letter to the AFA superintendent on the graduation issue can be read below: (Editor’s note: The letter still lists the number of cadets as four, but as stated above, the Air Force Academy confirmed with 11 News Wednesday that the number is now two.)

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