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Marine fundraising to sue DoD over COVID vaccine mandate

Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base sign outside the main gate of the base. (UT File Photo/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
October 04, 2021

A Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. is filing for a religious exemption to the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and has begun fundraising in hopes of filing a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.

20-year-old Lance Cpl. Matthew Northcutt, who is a Baptist, told ABC10 San Diego last week he will be filing a religious exemption. Regardless of whether his religious exemption is granted, Northcutt said he is also planning to file a federal lawsuit in the coming weeks, seeking an injunction against the military vaccine mandate.

Northcutt has already started fundraising to cover the costs for the attorneys’ fees to come with his legal fight. Since launching his fundraising effort through GoFundMe on September 13, Northcutt has raised just over $2,000 of his $20,000 total fundraising goal.

“It’s not just about myself, but about everyone,” Northcutt said of his lawsuit.

In August, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin moved forward with vaccine mandates for the entire U.S. military. By the end of August, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro issued an order, giving all active-duty U.S. Navy sailors and U.S. Marines 90 days to become fully vaccinated or face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). That 90-day period comes to a close at the end of November.

Northcutt said his religious objection is based on the contention that the COVID-19 vaccine’s creation relied on a stem-cell line derived from aborted fetal tissue.

“To me, that means it’s related, linked. I can’t abide by that morally,” Northcutt told ABC10.

While Northcutt contends the COVID-19 vaccines are too closely related to the act of abortion, ABC10 reports some religious leaders have said the connection to abortion is distant.

Northcutt joined the Marines two years ago as part of a childhood goal that he said may be coming to an early end.

“I wanted to be a Marine ever since I was a child. The reality is, potentially, I may not be one,” he told ABC10.

It remains to be seen how widely the military will grant religious waivers to the vaccine mandates. A document reportedly leaked from within the U.S. Coast Guard’s chaplain to the religious liberty organization the First Liberty, appears to show the service plans to closely scrutinize all religious exemption requests.

Other service members have also filed lawsuits, seeking to stop the military vaccine mandate. A lawsuit brought before the U.S. District Court for Colorado in August argues that existing military regulations already describe exemptions to vaccine mandates for service members who have survived prior infections and developed a degree of natural immunity. That lawsuit, brought on behalf of two service members seeks to declare all service members who have survived past COVID-19 infections as an entire class that is now exempt from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Northcutt said one of his primary oppositions to the vaccine mandate is over how new the vaccine is.

“What I am opposed to as an individual is a mandate for a vaccine that is still largely new,” said Northcutt.

Asked whether he will stay with the Marines or side with his moral objections if his personal religious exemption request is denied, Northcutt told ABC10, “Ultimately I would have to go with my personal values and personal morals … I can’t betray what I feel.”