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RESPONSE: Defense Department IG Answer Lankford Call to Investigate DOD’s Failure to Provide Religious Accommodations for the COVID-19 Vaccine

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today received a response to his letter to the Acting Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General Sean O’Donnell announcing that the Inspector General will be conducting an audit of DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine exemption process, just 10 days after Lankford requested the audit. 

Lankford previously sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding to know why, despite 19,979 known requests for religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine, the Department has granted nearly zero religious accommodations among the service branches. The letter requested a response by February 1, and to date, Secretary Austin has yet to respond. 

“Service members can still have and live their faith. Biden’s DOD cannot ignore the faith of service members. My office and I continue to hear from service members from Oklahoma and around the country that their requests for religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine have been denied. Many have received the same canned denial,” said Lankford. “After several attempts to ask the Biden Administration for answers about their process, I have now called for a full investigation by the DOD Inspector General to ensure our service members are not facing disciplinary action for making these requests. The DOD IG announced that they began the audit in February. It has been alarming that the DOD is so blatantly disregarding the free exercise of religion that is guaranteed to our military service members; they deserve better than this.”

Lankford has taken steps to stop or block every part of Biden’s vaccine mandates. Lankford introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which was ultimately solidified in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act Lankford supported and was signed into law. 

Lankford sent a letter to President Biden outlining his concerns with the vaccine mandates and has stood firmly with Oklahoma service members, health care workers, federal employees, and private-sector workers who have chosen so far not to be vaccinated. Lankford called out President Biden and Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for not responding to a letter he sent in September calling on Austin to protect service members from being forced to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and serving in our nation’s military or National Guard. Lankford stood up for the Oklahoma National Guard on the Senate floor after the Administration noted it planned to withhold pay from Guard members who refused the COVID-19 vaccine.

You can read the full announcement from the DOD IG HERE.