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Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: 'Deadly Force'

38 Chaplains Ask Supreme Court To Stop U.S. Military From Punishing Their Faith

The chaplains say the Department of Defense continues to defy a 2023 law rescinding its Covid vaccine mandate.


A healthy little Dutch girl without a proper name died 52 years ago. Scientists keep her kidney’s cells multiplying in a process similar to cancer. They perform increasing numbers of experiments on derivatives of this baby girl’s kidney cells to develop technologies that include taste-testing experiments for PepsiCo. Her vivisection forms “the backbone of the global gene therapy market.”

Scientists call the baby girl HEK 293. HEK stands for “human embryonic kidney,” and 293 means she was the 293rd experiment in a set.

She likely died from an elective abortion, not a miscarriage, concludes a 2006 journal article and many other scientific publications. An older gestational age and harvesting her kidney while still alive would have made her more useful for experimentation, as Planned Parenthood officials affirmed of their baby harvesting operations in 2015.

Like many medications, Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics were tested on cells made from HEK 293’s kidney. Some of the vaccines have HEK 293 cells inside them. That’s one of several reasons Capt. Rob Nelson, an Air Force chaplain, couldn’t in good conscience accept those treatments despite massive pressure from the military, he told The Federalist in a phone interview.

“I have five [children], and it breaks my heart to think of this. This girl continues to be violated as her cells are replicated over and over again,” he said.

Nelson is one of 38 military chaplains whose petition is now before U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in the case Alvarado v. Austin. The chaplains say the Department of Defense continues to defy the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act rescinding its Covid vaccine mandate, which the petition says has allowed statistically zero exceptions.

Eliminating People with Strong Ethical Boundaries from the Military

The DOD continues to violate the law by failing to rescind its punishments of conscientious objectors such as denied training and deployments required for promotions, the petition says. In addition, of course, denying soldiers’ religious exercise violates the First Amendment’s guarantee that all Americans can freely exercise their faith in their everyday lives.

That is precisely why the military has chaplains, several told The Federalist. All soldiers, their families, and civilians working for the U.S. military “have a right to believe what they believe and no one can say otherwise. It’s the same reason we can’t have a religious test for federal positions. As a chaplain, my job is to make sure the free exercise of religion is allowed, that nobody infringes upon that inalienable right,” said Army Col. Brad Lewis, a chaplain also party to the suit.

Chaplains usually help determine whether soldiers receive religious accommodations for all sorts of things, from Norse pagans wearing beards to Sikhs wearing turbans and Jews eating kosher. While the military routinely approves such waivers, it told Congress it had denied essentially all religious vaccine waiver requests from soldiers who weren’t almost retired, say the plaintiffs.

“I got in with an age waiver,” Nelson noted of his military service. “They can supposedly give wavers for all kinds of things but not a religious accommodation.”

In its Supreme Court response filed March 27, the DOD claims it has removed all punishments from soldiers imposed “solely” for conscientious objections to vaccines. It claims removing career penalties that arise from banning conscientious objectors from career-promoting training and duties has no “lawful basis.” The DOD also says that because the vaccination requirement has ended, the case is moot.

“By denying religious exemptions, what the military has done is set about the removal of people who are willing to stand on conviction,” Lewis said. He and Nelson noted this dynamic is especially dangerous if cultivated among soldiers, whose job is to kill.

Four Years Deployed to Defend Freedoms the Military Denies Him

Lewis has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the U.S. military, including 47 months of deployment. He’s taken seven deployments to Afghanistan, six to Iraq, and an entire year away from his wife and four children in South Korea. He’s a fourth-generation Assemblies of God pastor whose father also served in the U.S. military during the Cold War.

Lewis was the senior chaplain on Hawaii’s island of Oahu when the Army recommended him as one of two chaplains in 2020 to receive instruction at the U.S. Army War College.

Image of Col. Brad Lewis by U.S. Army / public domain

War College training is the height of an Army career. It’s preparation for high-level officer assignments. While he studied there, Lewis was ordered to take a Covid vaccine. But his conscience wouldn’t let him.

The immense global pressure for an untested medical treatment alarmed Lewis’ long-developed spiritual spidey senses: “The fact that commerce and travel and careers were hinging on receipt of this vaccine, that bothered me.” It seemed to violate biblical injunctions against total obedience to any state.

Lewis and his wife spent months talking about what to do. They knew objecting could kill his career right as he hit its peak, after decades of personal and family sacrifices.

In the end, he couldn’t violate his duty to obey the still, small voice inside, Lewis says. So he filed for a religious exemption. Like almost every other solely religious exemption of the 37,000 DOD told Congress soldiers filed, it was delayed. Then it was denied. So were Lewis’ appeals. He says his superiors told him he could get vaccinated or get drummed out of the military, but while Lewis was willing to sacrifice his body for his country, he would not sacrifice his soul.

So the Army punished him, first by leaving him with no orders upon graduation from War College. That left Lewis and his wife to sit for 11 months in student housing with no assignment for Lewis while another class of students came and went.

“My career was ended by those 11 months of unrated time,” Lewis said. The inaction the Army forced him into destroyed his ratings in the military’s evaluating system. When Congress ended the vaccine mandate, the military assigned Lewis to a rural post in Maryland, where he mostly oversees civilian contractors across the world who have local pastors to tend their spiritual needs.

He says he’s asked superiors whether he will have any opportunities to use his high-level, taxpayer-provided War College training. Lewis says they repeatedly ignored the question. So he’s filed to retire and will leave the Army for good in early 2025.

“I took real strength in the idea that my faith is more important than some bureaucrat’s opinion of my faith. It sustained me, it got me through,” Lewis said.

After asking The Federalist to provide Lewis’ birth date and Social Security Number and to delay this article’s publication, U.S. Army spokeswoman Heather Hagan, who according to her email signature works in the Pentagon, finally provided this in response to a request for comment: “As a matter of policy, the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

Not Just about Harvesting Killed Babies

Each conscientious objector’s reasoning is in some way unlike all the others’. There are commonalities, but they blend in individual ways, like fingerprints. That’s why religious objections to vaccines are not erased by a European Covid shot called Novavax, which its owner claims was developed and produced with no human embryo brutalization.

Army Chief of Chaplains Thomas Solhjem, who is now retired, highlighted Novavax when it came out in 2022. He ignored many soldiers’ religious objections not based on the vaccines’ use of murdered babies. They include concerns about damaging human health and reproductive capacity, ignoring natural immunity, the ethics of allegedly emergency decrees, the lack of informed consent, and heavy-handed manipulation tactics that include refusing to acknowledge any potentially legitimate conscience objections to the shots whatsoever.

It’s also unlikely any medical intervention today lacks a connection with the discarded little girl. Research done on cells descended from HEK 293’s tiny body is so “ubiquitous” now, wrote Dr. Melissa Moschella in 2020, that “Anyone who wants to completely avoid benefiting from the use of HEK 293 would effectively have to eschew the use of any medical treatments or biological knowledge developed or updated within the past forty years.” Even Tylenol was developed using cells her body generated.

Lewis said Solhjem’s video “blew my mind” because the job of a chaplain is not to negotiate people’s religious beliefs, it’s to support their exercise: “He didn’t say, ‘I stand with you. No matter what your reasons are, you have a right to believe them, and I will stand and die here defending your right.’ … It’s antithetical to what chaplains are supposed to do.”

‘The Department of Defense Is Hostile to Religion’

Several chaplains provided The Federalist “scripts” that military branches sent chaplains to pressure conscientious objectors into compliance rather than ascertain whether their objections were sincere. They include quotes from figures such as imams and preacher Russell Moore supporting vaccination.

But, for example, the Bible doesn’t say Russell Moore is its chief prophet and interpreter. While theologians and church tradition are helpful guides that Christians should take seriously, the final authority over Christianity is the Bible itself, and it says every individual is responsible before God for how he understands and applies it.

“The Department of Defense is hostile to religion,” said the chaplains’ lawyer, Art Schulcz, who is also a veteran. He said the way the DOD handled the vaccine mandate has contributed to the military’s recruiting crisis by repelling recruits and current soldiers with serious faith convictions. In response to ongoing shortfalls, U.S. military branches are lowering enlistment standards and issuing waivers of risk factors such as marijuana use.

The U.S. military’s chaplains “recruiting deficit is extreme,” wrote Rear Adm. Gregory Todd, the Navy’s chief of chaplains, last year.

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