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Coast Guard accused of illegally using automated system to mass-deny 99% of religious waivers for vaccine mandate

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U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda L. Fagan (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee Republicans alleged that the U.S. Coast Guard used an automated system to mass-deny nearly 99% of religious accommodation requests seeking COVID vaccine exemptions.

As of September, the Coast Guard had approved only 12 religious waivers but denied 1,231, reported Fox News Digital.

"Religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Despite these protections, information received by Committee Republicans indicates that the adjudication process for exemption applications was a pro forma exercise designed to reach predetermined conclusions—to deny requests and appeals—in nearly every single case," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Commandant Admiral Linda L. Fagan.

According to federal law and Pentagon policy, leaders from each military branch are required to analyze every request individually.

Pentagon's Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell issued an internal memo that read, "We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies."

Over a dozen Republican lawmakers led by Representatives James Comer of Kentucky and Andrew Clyde of Georgia agreed with O'Donnell's finding. They wrote on Tuesday, "USCG's review system was similarly stood up to reach predetermined conclusions with the goal of rejecting applications." The mass denial of requests indicated "no case-by-case determinations were taking place."

Religious accommodation applicants received blanket denial letters that lawmakers alleged were created by a form tool that automatically generated "a predetermined reason why that argument was insufficient to overcome a denial." The software generated a pre-written response based on one of 25 possible arguments religious accommodation applicants could make.

"Under no circumstances should the [Coast Guard] blatantly disregard Americans' religious freedoms," Comer told the Daily Caller. "We fully expect Admiral Fagan to provide answers about depriving these members a fair process."

R. Davis Younts, a criminal defense attorney, told the news outlet that using an automated tool with a default setting to mass-deny religious waivers would be a "clear" violation of federal law.

"Blanket denials of religious accommodations, without the individualized review and without a clear determination that there's a compelling interest and no alternative things to do to accomplish the mission without it, that's absolutely a violation of federal law," said Younts.

The Republican lawmakers' letter demanded a staff-level briefing from Coast Guard officials to explain the process used to review and deny the requests. The Coast Guard acknowledged receiving the letter and confirmed that it would investigate the matter.

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