Lance Corporal Catherine Arnett is on the brink of court martial for decisions made in opposition to what she considers an “unlawful order” to take a COVID-19 vaccination shot.
Immediately following the secretary of defense’s order to vaccinate against COVID-19 on Aug. 24, 2021, Arnett sought religious exemption—which was denied the following month. Having submitted her appeal against the decision in November, it was denied in January 2022. This began an administrative separation process from the Marine Corps, prompting Arnett to declare she “cannot consent to it.”
The 24-year-old Lance Corporal held firm in her beliefs, telling The Epoch Times that “if your mandate is illegal, then your separation orders are illegal.” In April 2022, Arnett received a letter from her command, giving her 30 days to leave Japan and report to California’s Camp Pendleton to be processed for separation. The Marine Corps does not separate individuals from duty stations overseas or outside the continental United States.
Thus, Arnett continues to refuse to board a plane, explaining that “[the order] to get on the plane [is] inextricably linked to the vaccine mandate.” If the “unlawful order” of the vaccine mandate were not in place, she would have chosen to serve longer, aspiring to become a drill instructor. Instead, her decision to seek religious accommodation and subsequent refusal to leave Japan for separation from the Marine Corps has had consequences that may lead to a court martial.
Arnett was charged under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for disobeying a direct order. She was also charged under Article 87 for deliberating failing to board an aircraft to the United States.
Because Arnett has less than six years of service, under military regulations, the Marine Corps does not have to give her an administrative separation board to decide whether to retain or separate her from service. After her religious accommodation appeal was denied, she was accused of misconduct and commission of a serious offense for not getting the COVID-19 vaccination shot, Arnett said. She was told that she would be administratively separated within 30 days.
Arnett’s court martial trial is set to begin on Aug. 23, only one month shy of the expiration of her current enlistment and her ability to leave the Marine Corps under normal terms. It is her intention to remain in Japan until Sept. 18, which would fulfill the four-year contract she made with the Marine Corps.
Arnett is hopeful the vaccine mandates will be defeated in the courts sooner than later, saying, “God willing, I would like to remain in the Marine Corps.” She recognizes that she has chosen a difficult path, admitting that her decisions have left her feeling alienated. “I’ve basically been exiled from my squadron,” she said, adding that there seems to be an “unspoken rule” that she does not interact with other service members. She described the experience as “very isolating.”
The Epoch Times also spoke to Lt. Col. Madison Whitaker (a pseudonym) who has served nearly 18 years in the Marine Corps. Whitaker spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. His orders to battalion command were recently canceled for refusing to get the jab. With equal disappointment, he is aggrieved by the lack of approval for religious accommodation as well as the military’s refusal to recognize service members’ natural immunity to the coronavirus.
“What’s missing from the entire equation,” Whitaker said, “is that leadership is not willing to sit down and have a kneecap-to-kneecap adult conversation with the Marines in their units.” Before “sidelining” nearly all exemption requests for religious accommodation or otherwise. He believes Marine Corps leadership should be meeting with those under their command.
He explained that no one in his chain of command sat him down to hear his side of the story. “There has never been an effort to do anything like that,” he said.
Whitaker said that there are no Food and Drug Administration-approved (FDA) vaccines available to service members, so he doesn’t understand the rush to force vaccinations on personnel.
The marine, along with a group of service members, argues that the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate cannot compel service members to receive vaccines issued under Emergency Use Authorized (EUA), but only vaccines that have full FDA approval and are labeled as such. Currently, only EUA vaccines are available for service members to take, according to a whistleblower report sent to Congressmembers on Aug. 15.
The Pentagon, however, has issued a policy (pdf) saying the FDA-approved Comirnaty and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are interchangeable, citing FDA guidance. The legality of this policy is contested by service members resisting the vaccine mandate.
Many of the officers tasked with enforcing the vaccine mandate “don’t want to be seen as bucking the system,” Whitaker said. “They don’t want to risk their reputation, their retirement, or the things that they have worked toward over the course of their careers.” What’s more, he is convinced that “the highest levels of the DoD” have been instructed to not give any religious waivers except to service members who were already exiting the service.
As of Aug. 3, the Marine Corps has approved (pdf) 11 religious exemptions, 545 administrative or medical exemptions, and has separated 3,299 people.
Punishing Marines for their decision to object to the vaccine for religious reasons, or because there are only EUA drugs available, is “contrary to how we’re brought up as Marines and what is expected of us whenever we get an order that is suspect.” Thousands contend that forcing service members to take an experimental vaccine is unlawful, Whitaker noted.
“In the case of Lance Corporal Arnett, this is her first tour and she’s being sidelined,” Whitaker pointed out. “For those like Arnett who have probably wanted to join for a long time,” he said, “this has just completely diminished the trust between the leadership and those that are going through this or would have to go through this.”
Defending Their Rights
Regardless of the outcome, Arnett hopes her experience “empowers other service members to challenge unlawful orders.” Every citizen, in general, she said “should have the gall to challenge unlawful orders.”
Whitaker agreed, stating, “There’s this misconception out there that whenever you join the military, you take an oath that relinquishes your rights.” But this is not true. “We don’t lose any of the rights espoused in the Bill of Rights or anywhere in the Constitution,” he explained.
“While it may sound idealistic, I’m fighting for my First Amendment rights, and my free exercise of religion,” Whitaker said, “it’s really that simple.” According to the Marine Corps officer, “service members are not wards of the state just because they raise their right hand. They still retain their rights.”
Whitaker finds it “even more egregious” that what he has sworn to do for the country—”support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic—is the very thing thousands are being punished for.”
Truth be told, he said, “we have significant religious persecution of service members going on within the DoD for a pharmaceutical product that no one needs, many of these service members don’t want, and that is not safe, nor is it effective.”
“If we don’t defend our First Amendment rights, then we won’t have any rights in this country,” Whitaker said.
Both Arnett and Whitaker emphasized that their views do not reflect those of the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of the Navy, or the U.S. Marine Corps.
Neither the DoD nor the Marine Corps replied to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.