By Jefferey Jaxen

Seven cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) in New London, CT have found themselves in very hot water, after standing by their religious exemption from the Coast Guard vaccine mandate. While most businesses, the travel industry, and other branches of the armed forces, have backed down from their Covid vaccine mandates or, at least, accepted religious exemptions for those with sincere beliefs, the USCGA has not. 

Last week, the USCGA class reported back for the start of a new year minus the seven cadets who were excluded by the academy over their religious exemptions to Covid vaccination. Rather than making accommodations for the unvaccinated cadets, the academy forced them off campus with roughly twenty-four hours notice – issuing them a ‘temporary duty’ assignment back to their respective homes. 

This move seems contrary to new changes to Covid guidelines by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The new guidelines drop restrictions against the unvaccinated, and make no distinction between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated.

A petition for an injunction regarding Coast Guard personnel is being reviewed, in which the government agreed it would not punish the cadets until the court makes its decision or by Sept 1, 2022, whichever was sooner according to attorneys in the case.

So, why is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy singling out these cadets? 

The Academy’s move appears strategic, meant to avoid a court-ordered temporary restraining order (TRO) against expulsion. Further, rather than accommodate the cadets with religious exemptions, the seven who have been forced off campus are not being offered the option to take part in classes remotely – threatening to disqualify them from their fall semester. 

[Warships / Alamy Stock Photo]

While New London’s Coast Guard Academy seems determined to eliminate unvaccinated cadets from its ranks, several branches of the military have been ordered, through the courts, to back down.     

In late March, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor expanded an initial challenge by 35 Navy Seals, who previously sued over the Covid vaccine mandate, to temporarily block the punishment or discharge of approximately 4,000 sailors with religious exemptions.

On August 18, 2022, U.S. District Court of Florida Judge Steven Merryday issued a preliminary injunction against the Department of Defense and the U.S. Marine Corps from enforcing the federal government’s Covid vaccine mandate. The order barred the U.S. Marine Corps from mandating the shot to all U.S. Marines whether they are active or in reserve service.

The order echoed a related decision by Southern District of Ohio Judge Matthew McFarland less than a month earlier, granting permanent injunctive relief to over 9,000 Air Force class members, who are part of ongoing lawsuits also contesting the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate. 

The expanded group protected from the government’s mandate also includes active duty Air Force and Space Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force Academy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps who have asked for a religious exemption to the vaccine since Sept. 1, 2021.   

The move to push the cadets out the door by the USCGA also smacks in the face of current data which shows every branch of the military is struggling to make its 2022 recruiting goals. In late June 2022, NBC news reported, “The Coast Guard is lagging behind its active-duty numbers for the year. It has met 80% and 93% of its goals for reserves and officers respectively, but has filled only about 55% of its target of 4,200 active-duty enlistments.”

Furthermore, in 2018 the Coast Guard’s Women’s Retention Study was conducted by the RAND Corporation found that women withdrew from the Coast Guard at up to 20% higher rate than men. A relevant data point given five of the seven cadets outed from New London’s academy are women according to The HighWire’s investigation. 

[Clarence Holmes Photography (New London, CT, United States) / Alamy Stock Photo]

In September’s 2022 edition of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard and Governance Committee member of the Coast Guard’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, Amy Wirts said “…while the gap in retention rates between Coast Guard men and women has been reduced, it exists nonetheless. “Until that [gap] is closed, we definitely have a mission,”

Michael Rose, one of the attorneys representing the seven cadets, told The HighWire, “I know of no academy, other than the Coast Guard Academy, that abruptly required unvaccinated cadets to leave the academy, with coercive threats, without monetary support or a military destination, and requiring the cadets to maintain the academy’s academic, physical and military standards.” Rose continued, “It appears the academy is trying to inflict pain and hardship to purge out the noncompliant at a time when recruitment is at a record low.”

Moving forward, legal teams defending vaccine mandates will have an increasingly large hurdle to overcome, since the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has abandoned its guidelines on the matter. A key component once used to justify mandates and defend them in court, the CDC is no longer calling for differing treatment of citizens based on their vaccine status.  

Part of the agency’s switch was due to public health leaders acknowledging that the virus is endemic and all efforts should be taken to live with it – like we do with the flu. In addition to finally accepting the value and potency of natural immunity within the greater population. 

The downward-spiraling efficacy of the Covid vaccines themselves have also added to the seemingly indefensible need for mandates as the two-dose Covid shot series has an efficacy that is rapidly approaching zero.  

While the pandemic response has slowed in the public arena, it appears that the final battles to release the constraints of once heavy-handed public health edicts, informed by incomplete data, will be decided by the courts.

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