Four seniors at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado may not be able to graduate alongside their fellow cadets because they have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Those seniors, also called ‘firsties’ face being fired from the military, getting a letter of reprimand – and could be on the hook to repay the government about $200,000 for their tuition, The Gazette reports.
They had all applied for religious exemptions to refuse the vaccine, the Gazette reports, but their applications had been denied.
Now, spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maguire said they can either get the vaccine prior to the academy’s graduation in two weeks – or they can ‘elect to voluntarily resign.’
‘Otherwise, they will face consequences for disobeying a lawful order,’ Maguire told the Gazette.
But so far, the Air Force Academy is the only military academy that is barring its seniors from graduation due to their vaccination status.
The decision to let them graduate may ultimately be decided in the courts system, where multiple service members who have been discharged for refusing to get the vaccine are suing the federal government, which first mandated vaccines last year.
Four Air Force Academy cadets may not be able to graduate because they are not vaccinated against the coronavirus. The 2019 graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium is pictured here
The seniors may also face being fired from the military, getting a letter of reprimand – and could be on the hook to repay the government about $200,000 for their tuition
The cadets are required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus under the United States military’s vaccine mandate. Cadets are seen here making their way to their seats at last year’s graduation ceremony
The seniors, though, are part of more than a dozen cadets who face ‘administrative separation’ for not getting the vaccine after their requests for a religious exemption were denied.
There are also two juniors, one sophomore and six freshman at the US Air Force Academy who have refused to get the COVID vaccine.
Military leaders claim their refusal amounts to disobeying an order, noting that service members have long been required to get other vaccines to ensure the health of the force.
Students who were not already vaccinated receive several shots on their first day at the academy, including shots for measles, mumps and Rubella, and they get flu shots every year in the fall.
But advocates for the college seniors say they should be allowed to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds.
Former Colorado State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, for example, labeled the unnamed students ‘evangelical Christian cadets, who are pro-life, and they object to the fact that the vaccines were tested on aborted fetal stem cell lines.
‘Because of their objection to abortion, their conscience will not let them … inject this particular drug into their own bodies,’ he told the Gazette.
‘That’s why they won’t take the vaccine,’ he continued. ‘It’s not because they hate all vaccines.’
Klingenschmitt has now planned a rally outside of the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs, saying: ‘There’s only one person who can change his mind right now, and that is the superintendent, three-star Gen. Richard Clark.
‘Our protest is to plea with him personally, “Sir, please keep your oath. Please let the cadets graduate. Defend their religious freedom.”
The seniors all filed religious exemptions against the vaccine, but their requests have been denied. A soldier is seen here getting the jab in February 2021
The military has refused the vast majority of requests for religious exemptions. Here, the Hickam 15th Medical Group are seen holding a vaccination event at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
Military leaders say any cadet who refuses to get the COVID vaccine is disobeying orders. Air Force trainees are seen here last May getting their COVID vaccine
The United States Military first required all service members to get vaccinated last year, with Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin claiming the vaccines are crucial to the health and readiness of the armed forces.
‘To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,’ he said in a memo last August.
‘After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.’
Since then, though, as many as 20,000 service members have requested a religious exemption, but the vast majority have been denied.
Now, FOX News reports, the Marine Corps, Navy, Army and Air Force have discharged nearly 4,000 active duty service members over their refusal to get the vaccine.
Among those are 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 Army soldiers and 360 airmen.
At last 50 were discharged during entry-level training, FOX News reports, and discharges are continuing even as unvaccinated service members try to fight the mandates in federal court.
As of Saturday, FOX reports, about 99 percent of active-duty Navy and 98 percent of Air Force, Marine Corps and Army personnel have received at least one dose.