Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla, said earlier this week that he will not lift his hold on confirmation votes on Department of Defense nominees until the Biden administration explains the tens of thousands of religious accommodation requests it never granted or even answered.
“This is not over,” Lankford told The Daily Signal on Monday evening during a press call.
In the United States Senate, a hold is a parliamentary procedure permitted by the Standing Rules of the Senate, which allows one or more senators to prevent a motion from reaching a vote on the Senate floor.
According to an article at washingtontimes.com, Lankford’s objection centers on the military’s religious waiver process, which has come under fire from critics who say the Department of Defense (DOD) was woefully unprepared for the number of troops who would ask for exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Lankford and others say the DOD has failed to treat the requests fairly.
The Department of Defense has had a defined process for making decisions on religious accommodations and has made such decisions for the past two centuries, Lankford said. Yet thousands of service members have not been told whether their religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be granted—and many have been denied.
“This one just seems to be hanging out there,” Lankford said, calling the Defense Department’s failure to deal with the matter “absurd.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Army, 4,440 active Army members requested permanent religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine (this figure does not include Army National Guard or Army Reserve). The Army only approved 119 of them, and rejected 1,797.
The Air Force has only granted 200 approvals out of 11,000 religious accommodation requests, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told The Daily Signal on Tuesday.
Lankford says that once he has obtained answers from the Biden administration on why the DOD either never answered or granted the tens of thousands of religious accommodation requests to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, he intends to “finish the process.” Although the Senate is expected to lift the COVID vaccine mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Lankford said he will ask about reparations for families who have incurred egregious medical or legal bills due to the mandate.
“I’ve demanded answers on why the Biden admin has granted almost none of the thousands of religious exemption requests for military vaccine mandates,” he said earlier this month. “With no adequate response, I announced a hold on DOD nominees. Partial concessions in the NDAA won’t be enough—we need the truth.”
Lankford, who is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has repeatedly raised concerns about the treatment of service members who chose not to get vaccinated. In August, he sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressing concerns about “deplorable living conditions for service members who have religious objections to the COVID vaccine.”
“At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead,” he warned. “At worst, it demonstrates an active distain for and hostility toward them.”
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