WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today joined U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to introduce legislation to protect cadets and midshipmen at the nation’s U.S. service academies from being punished for declining the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Defending Freedom of Conscience for Cadets and Midshipmen Act (S.4304) was drafted after the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) announced that unvaccinated seniors would not be commissioned as military officers.  Cadets and midshipmen who are not commissioned could be forced to repay tuition, room, and board expenses.

“The decision to end promising military careers solely based on a COVID vaccine seems punitive and another example of clumsy government overreach,” Hyde-Smith said.  “The cadets and midshipmen at our service academies are among the brightest in the country, and they shouldn’t be dismissed so flippantly.”

“It is outrageous to punish young men and women who want nothing more than to serve their nation,” Rubio said.  “These are the types of ridiculous, unnecessarily punitive measures that discourage patriotic Americans from joining the military.  The Academy should stop playing politics and focus on preparing cadets and midshipmen for their future service.”

The Defending Freedom of Conscience for Cadets and Midshipmen Act would apply to cadets and midshipmen at the USAFA, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Specifically, S.4304 the legislation would: 

  • Clarify that cadets and midshipmen cannot be denied graduation for not being vaccinated against COVID-19;
  • Prevent cadets and midshipmen from being dismissed from their service academy as a result of refusing to be vaccinated (i.e. for disciplinary reasons for refusing the order to be vaccinated); and
  • Prevent any cadet who is not allowed to commission due to their COVID-19 vaccination status from being subject to repayment claims.

In addition to Hyde-Smith, additional original cosponsors of the Rubio bill include Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).  U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will introduce a House companion measure.

Hyde-Smith is currently accepting nomination applications for the Class of 2027 at the U.S. service academies.  Additional information and application forms are available here.