Months after the Pentagon lifted its COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the US Merchant Marine Academy has kept its requirement in place — denying all requests from potential midshipmen for religious or medical exemptions, The Post has learned.
In a Tuesday letter to the Kings Point academy’s superintendent, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) demanded the USMMA rescind the “blanket denial,” claiming it violates school officials’ oath to “support and defend the Constitution.”
“As of today, the USMMA’s website says that ‘neither medical nor religious exemption requests will be accepted or processed for vaccination requirements,’” he said.
“This statement appears to be a violation of your oath of office and an illegal attack on the constitutional rights of current and potential Midshipmen.”
Banks, a member of the Navy Reserve who served in Afghanistan and is currently chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, added the mandate violates federal law, citing a Supreme Court ruling and 2017 executive order that “clearly states individuals with religious objections to certain forms of medical treatment are allowed to opt out of such treatment.”
The USMMA offers bachelor degrees focusing on “national security, marine transportation and economic needs” and trains midshipmen to become licensed Merchant Marine officers and commissioned military officers after graduation.
All Defense Department military academies lifted their coronavirus vaccine mandates in January after Republicans demanded the Pentagon end its service-wide requirement as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
However, the USMMA was not covered by that action since it is administered by the United States Maritime Administration — which falls under the Department of Transportation.
“The United States Merchant Marine Academy requires incoming students to provide proof of vaccination against a variety of diseases,” the school says on its website. “Starting with the Class of 2026, that list of vaccinations will include the COVID-19 vaccination per Academy policy.”
In his letter, Banks also asked the school’s superintendent, Vice Admiral Joanna M. Nunan, for all written communications among the school’s leadership and with the DOT “regarding the USMAA’s decision to prohibit religious exemptions for its COVID vaccine mandate and punitive measures toward current or potential Midshipmen who did not comply with this mandate.”
As the national pandemic emergency nears its end on May 11, Banks suspects the academy’s insistence on the mandate is at least partially due to what he called Nunan’s history of pushing “woke” ideology on the school.
“I’m very disturbed by Superintendent Nunan’s history of attacks on religious freedom at Kings Point,” he told The Post. “Her obsession with ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ appears to only extend to the midshipmen that comply with her radical, woke agenda.” . . . (read more on New York Post)
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