Lankford presses Pentagon to explain ‘horrific’ conditions for unvaxxed sailors seeking religious exemptions

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EXCLUSIVE: A top GOP senator is demanding answers from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after Fox News Digital reported that U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who sits on the Senate Committee Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter to Austin Monday afternoon, first obtained by Fox News.

“Once again, I am writing to you with time-sensitive requests and grave concerns over the treatment of service members who have religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Just when I thought the Department of Defense’s mistreatment of service members with religious objections to the vaccine could not get worse, it has,” Lankford wrote.

“Although many of my previous letters appear to have been ignored, recent reports necessitate that I write again, as the living and employment conditions have worsened for service members being unfairly treated by the stringent and uneven vaccine mandate policies forced upon them by this Administration,” he continued.

UNVAXXED NAVY SAILORS FACE ‘DEPLORABLE’ LIVING CONDITIONS WHILE RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS PEND

U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions while awaiting their termination from the military, according to court documents.
(Navy Declaration/First Liberty Institute)

“At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active disdain for and hostility toward them,” the senator stated, referring to Fox News’ reporting.

In a court filing in June by First Liberty in the Northern District of Texas Fort Worth Division District Court, sailors recounted deplorable conditions on large U.S. vessels, where they remain waiting as their cases are adjudicated.

One sailor who is now part of a class action lawsuit said in a court-filed declaration that they “could not leave the area” after asking to be terminated from the military due to religious objections to the mandate and were moved to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier’s berthing barge, where the conditions are “deplorable.”

“These conditions render that of an authoritarian and abusive government, which falls far below the standard of the military of the greatest nation on earth. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately take action to ensure that no service member is subjected to deplorable, illegal retribution for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs. I demand your swift action in auditing and remedying the working and living conditions of these sailors,” he continued.

The senator said that “as each day passes, the COVID-19 vaccine is more irrelevant and the mandate is more oppressive,” and requested a “quick resolution” of the matter.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lankford’s letter and demands.

U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense's COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions while awaiting their termination from the military, according to court documents.

U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions while awaiting their termination from the military, according to court documents.
(Navy Declaration/First Liberty Institute)

“The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), or ‘IKE’, is currently undergoing maintenance at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. When ships are in maintenance periods, Sailors on duty and those who do not have housing in town live on the berthing barge,” Robert Myers, Commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic said in a statement to Fox News Digital in response to the original article last week detailing the conditions.

“Since moving the crew to the berthing barge more than a year ago, the Commanding Officer has assigned a senior officer to oversee and ensure living conditions are maintained within Navy standards. A five-person IKE team comprised of Sailors works with contractors to correct mechanical issues. Leaking or clogged plumbing, like any quality of life issues, are episodic and are corrected as soon as possible – often the same day or within 24 hours of being reported to leadership. Any discrepancies that are beyond the scope of Sailors assigned are directed to a contracted maintenance support team,” he continued.

“The IKE crew conducts cleaning stations and sweepers daily, both on the IKE and also on the berthing barge. This All Hands effort is meant to ensure that Sailors — those living and working on the berthing barge — have ownership and pride in the spaces where they live and work.”

U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense's COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions while awaiting their termination from the military, according to court documents.

U.S. Navy service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions while awaiting their termination from the military, according to court documents.
(Navy Declaration/First Liberty Institute)

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“The IKE has a very small number of Sailors refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and/or seeking an exemption from the vaccine. While undergoing the administrative process of being separated from the Navy, IKE leadership has provided opportunities to accommodate liberty requests (beyond weekends and holidays) for these Sailors to ensure they can prepare for life after the Navy. The Navy is not aware of any Sailors that were unable to leave while awaiting discharge from their obligated service.”

The Navy did not respond to Fox News Digital’s questions regarding how long it takes to terminate a sailor or when sailors seeking a religious exemption to the vaccine would be allowed back onboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower.



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