Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., plans to introduce a bill that would bar cadets and midshipmen from five service academies from being punished for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
The move comes as the Navy nears 1,000 separations due to COVID-19 vaccine refusals. Members of the military must be vaccinated under the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for service members, or face reassignment.
The legislation, the Defending Freedom of Conscience for Cadets and Midshipmen Act, would clarify that cadets and midshipmen from the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cannot be denied graduation for not being vaccinated against COVID-19; prevent cadets and midshipmen from being dismissed from their service academy as a result of refusing to be vaccinated (i.e., for disciplinary reasons for refusing the order to be vaccinated); and prevent any cadets from receiving commissions due to their COVID-19 vaccination status.
"It is outrageous to punish young men and women who want nothing more than to serve their nation," Rubio said in a statement issued Wednesday. "These are the types of ridiculous, unnecessarily punitive measures that discourage patriotic Americans from joining the military. The Academy should stop playing politics and focus on preparing cadets and midshipmen for their future service."
Members of Congress, the military, and the public have questioned if the exemption reviews by the military services have been fair. There have been multiple lawsuits filed against the mandate, mainly centering on the fact that very few service members have been granted religious exemptions from the shots.
A Texas federal judge granted an injunction in January preventing the Navy from acting against 35 sailors who refused the vaccination on religious grounds, the Navy Times reported.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in March that the Navy could take a sailor's vaccination status into account when determining an assignment or deployment for those sailors.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Solange Reyner is a writer and editor for Newsmax. She has more than 15 years in the journalism industry reporting and covering news, sports and politics.
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