Three U.S. Air Force Academy cadets whose refusal to get COVID-19 vaccines threatened their May 25 graduation — along with the risk of a repayment demand for six-figure tuition costs — will be awarded their degrees, officials said Saturday.
Following a “standard review” of graduation requirements for this year’s senior class, the Academy’s board recommended awarding Bachelor of Science degrees “for the three cadets refusing the COVID-19 vaccine,” a news release from the Colorado Springs, Colorado, school said in a statement.
However, the Academy stated, “they will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated,” and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will decide whether the graduates must “reimburse the United States for education costs in lieu of service.”
According to attorney Mike Rose, the unvaccinated cadets will not be allowed to attend the graduation ceremony.
“That has been confirmed and is petty, vindictive, disrespectful and unnecessary,” Mr. Rose, who represents unvaccinated cadet Jameson Barnard, said via email.
An Air Force Academy spokesperson was not immediately able to verify Mr. Rose’s claim but said they would investigate.
Originally, four senior cadets, known as “firsties,” refused the vaccine on religious grounds. Their requests for exemptions were denied, however, and one cadet took the jab.
“This is a punishment for their religion,” Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Colorado state representative and a former Navy chaplain told The Washington Times earlier this week. “It’s not about the vaccine. It’s about their religious conscience and their politically incorrect Christian beliefs. It’s a religious purge by the Biden administration,” he said at the time.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican whose district includes the Air Force Academy, had decried the potential graduation refusal.
“America was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which encompasses protecting the religious rights of the individual. That includes those who put on the uniform and volunteer to serve our nation. It is imperative that our military leaders uphold the constitutional rights of these cadets,” he said in a statement this week.
Michael L. Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, was not pleased with the decision.
He said via email, “These 3 USAF Academy cadets should be immediately charged and prosecuted under [the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s] Article 92 for their wretched failure to obey the lawful order of the Secretary of Defense to receive the FDA-approved COVID vaccines. They should be aggressively tried via a General Court Martial and, if convicted, be imprisoned as well as being compelled to pay back the hundreds of thousands of dollars per cadet which American taxpayers have forked over for their expensive education.”
The Washington Times has reached out to Rep. Lamborn’s office and the Air Force headquarters for comment about the Academy’s decision.