A Special Forces-qualified chaplain assigned to the 157th Infantry Brigade is the subject of a commander’s inquiry after he sent a celebratory email to the entire brigade Friday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, ending nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights and allowing states to ban the procedure.
Maj. Brian T. Hargis is a chaplain observer coach/trainer assigned to First Army at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, said command spokesperson Steven Harmon in a phone interview. The training unit, which evaluates other units during training events, is composed of full- and part-time troops from the regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve.
Hargis did not respond to an emailed request for comment before this article’s publication deadline. An auto response stated that he was conducting a permanent change of station move.
The email, sent from Hargis’ military email account, went out to his entire brigade Friday afternoon. Screenshots of the email were obtained by Army Times.
“This is a monumental victory of the highest spiritual context, as it upholds the sanctity of life of the unborn, honors the US Constitution, makes right the wrong of 1973, and ends the murder of millions of people,” Hargis said in his email. “REJOICE AND CELEBRATE!”
The lengthy email includes several quotes from the Bible and encouraged troops to “pray for the safety of our Supreme Justices (and families) whose lives are in danger from Satanic-influenced evildoers,” as well as for all states to “follow suit with the SC decisions” and ban abortion.
According to Task & Purpose, two senior leaders from the brigade responded to Hargis’ email to remind troops that “there are appropriate times and places to express opinions...at work, in uniform, or using government equipment/systems is not the correct method.”
Hargis, whose LinkedIn indicates he served 12 years as an enlisted Green Beret before becoming a chaplain officer in late 2007, was on active duty orders when he sent the email, Harmon said.
Although chaplains are required to be credentialed leaders in their respective faiths, they occupy a tenuous gray area between the need to provide soldiers the religious support to which they’re entitled and the First Amendment’s restrictions on government officials advancing their personal religious beliefs in an official capacity.
It’s not clear whether Hargis violated any soldiers’ constitutional rights by sending the email to the entire brigade, but Harmon indicated that the commander’s inquiry is reviewing “propriety and legality of that all-users message and the dissemination of such.”
A 2019 legal opinion from the Air Force’s top legal office about what chaplains can or cannot say in public prayers at optional events holds that “any prayer or invocation offered must not denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose...[and] the chaplain could not express the views of his or her faith on topics such as homosexuality, transgenderism, or nonreligious personnel.”
It’s not clear, though, whether a similar litmus test would apply in Hargis’ case — he sent an unsolicited email about abortion that troops could not opt-out of receiving.
Harmon said the chaplain’s email “is not indicative of any Army policy or position,” adding that “First Army is prepared to implement any [Defense Department]-directed policies that will improve the well-being and health of our soldiers.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday that DoD “is examining this [latest Supreme Court] decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law,” which prohibits military medical facilities from performing abortions except in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.