From an early age, Alaric Stone wanted nothing more than to serve his country in the U.S. military. Growing up as the son and great-nephew of Coast Guardsmen, Stone drew inspiration from his family’s years of service and his Catholic faith when choosing to pursue a career serving others.
Upon graduating as salutatorian of his high school class in 2016, Stone applied to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where he ultimately graduated first in his class and received the highest marks in both overall academics and the physical, military aspects of the institute’s training program. Officially commissioned in May 2020, Stone has since achieved the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and served aboard a national security cutter, one of the Coast Guard’s most advanced platforms to date.
Stone’s stellar track record has also earned him the praise of his superiors, with one of his supervising officers recently declaring him to be an “Exemplary Officer [who] embodies critical leadership skills” and praising his “commitment to core values.” The same officer also gave Stone the “highest recommendation” for any future at-sea missions.
Despite his lifelong dedication to serving his country, Stone’s military career is in jeopardy as a result of the Biden administration’s August 2021 Covid shot mandate for military service members.
Citing his Catholic faith and the fact that some of the Covid jabs were developed with cells originally isolated from aborted fetal tissue, Stone filed a religious exemption from the mandate in September 2021. The Coast Guard lieutenant ultimately received a letter in January 2022 informing him that his accommodation had been denied. After having his appeal denied in June, Stone is now facing involuntary discharge.
“Every step of this process has been incredibly frustrating for both myself and the … other service members who are currently still going through the same process,” Stone told The Federalist. “We’re being told that we’re not fit for worldwide deployment, we’re not able to support both personal unit and mission readiness standards. And that just simply isn’t the case.”
Stone went on to describe his two years of commissioned service, noting his four worldwide deployments onboard his national security cutter, with three of them being in “support of counternarcotics efforts in the vicinity of Central and Latin America and [the] eastern Pacific.”
“Since commissioning, I’ve done this while remaining perfectly healthy, never missed a single day of work due to illness throughout the pandemic. And that’s the very similar situation for a lot of the other Coast Guard service members,” Stone said. “Many of them are still serving in operational billets and still answering … last minute requests to fill very critical operational roles … [and] at the same time … they’re being told that they’re not fit for that same service that they’ve been completing flawlessly and without fail throughout this whole process.”
In a recently released report from the Pentagon’s inspector general, investigators found that “the military was likely too quick to deny service members religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.”
“We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies,” Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote in a memo sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in June. “Some of the appellate decisions included documentation that demonstrated a greater consideration of facts and circumstances involved in a request.”
Rather than cower and accept defeat, Stone has since decided to go on offense against the country’s corrupt military leadership. Last Friday, Stone, along with several other Coast Guardsmen, filed a class-action lawsuit against high-ranking military officials such as Austin and Commandant of the Coast Guard Linda Fagan for continued denial of service members’ religious exemptions.
Filed by the Thomas More Society in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the lawsuit alleges that Austin and Fagan “are trying to force Plaintiffs and more than 1,200 other Coast Guard members to submit to being injected with a COVID-19 vaccine against their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Chaplains attested to the sincerity of Plaintiffs’ religious objections to being vaccinated, and Defendants did not contest the sincerity of Plaintiffs’ religious objections to being vaccinated,” the suit reads. “This action is based upon the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, both of which protect Plaintiffs’ and each Class member’s fundamental right to the free exercise of their religion.”
Also noted in the filing is how the Coast Guard has “denied virtually all of the 1,200+ religious accommodation requests” filed by its service members, with the few existing “approved religious accommodation requests” being for those who are “already slated for retirement or separation.”
“Primarily, we argue that the mandate in the Coast Guard, both facially and as applied, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it is a mandate that carves out numerous exceptions,” said Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton in an interview with The Federalist. “For example, in the Coast Guard, those participating in clinical trials are exempt from the mandate. Coast Guard auxiliarists are exempt. Inactive reserves are exempt, as well as Coast Guard dependents. All of those groups interact with Coast Guard personnel on base and elsewhere, and present, theoretically at least, the same sort of possible harms that religiously exempt folks would present. And yet, the Coast Guard allows them to carry on freely.”
“And of course, medically exempt folks are also allowed unvaccinated access to all parts of the service, and under RFRA, the question of a substantial burden of our religious exercise rights really hasn’t even been challenged by the government,” he continued. “It is a requirement in order to proceed under RFRA. … But … none of our representative plaintiffs have had the sincerity of their religious beliefs challenged.”
Among the other legal arguments laid out in the lawsuit are those pertaining to natural immunity acquired through prior Covid infection, specifically how the military has refused “to consider or grant medical exemptions based on natural immunity and in failing to provide an appellate review as required by mandatory Coast Guard instructions.”
During an interview with “60 Minutes” this past weekend, President Joe Biden declared that “the [Covid] pandemic is over,” a statement Crampton says “absolutely” helps their case in court.
“While much that is announced from the White House is almost unintelligible, in this case it was quite clear. He has proclaimed the pandemic over and I think rightfully so,” Crampton said. “The question then remains, ‘Why are these mandates continuing?’ … Why are the federal employees being subjected to mask mandates and vaccine mandates? You can’t have the one without the other.”
In closing his remarks, Stone remarked how both he and the president “took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” while highlighting how “a cornerstone of [America’s] constitutional guarantees is religious liberty.”
“As an officer in the Coast Guard, … in addition to my own personal stance and faith, I do have a responsibility to represent the other Coast Guardsmen and women that serve with me, and that’s what I’m hoping to do by coming forward so publicly as part of this suit,” he said. “If you look at our first president, our first commander in chief, George Washington, I think he put it best when he wrote, ‘When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen,’ referencing the soldiers that served in the War of Independence. And I think that that quote right there very much sums up the crux of this issue.”
Shawn Fleetwood is a Staff Writer for The Federalist and a graduate of the University of Mary Washington. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action and his work has been featured in numerous outlets, including RealClearPolitics, RealClearHealth, and Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood
Originally Posted on: https://thefederalist.com/2022/09/22/even-though-the-pandemic-is-over-the-coast-guard-still-denies-religious-exemptions-to-covid-jab-mandate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=even-though-the-pandemic-is-over-the-coast-guard-still-denies-religious-exemptions-to-covid-jab-mandate
[By: Shawn Fleetwood