One complaint was all it took to end a two-decade history of religious-themed dog tags for our troops. It’s not sitting well with religious liberty advocates and has even caught the attention of a U.S. Congressman.
Shields of Strength (SoS) is a private business with a big faith emphasis. Its products include everything from clothing to jewelry, but with a Christian theme. For two decades now, SoS has produced, with the U.S. Army’s permission and trademark license, dog tag replicas with uplifting sayings and Bible verses. SoS has produced over four million of the dog tags and has donated hundreds of thousands of them to Department of Defense (DoD) units and individual service members, reaching an estimated 90% of the operational units within DoD.
Recently the DoD demanded that SoS remove all Bible verses from its products that take advantage of a military trademark license. Why? Because DoD received one complaint from an atheist group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The group warned of litigation against the military if the Bible verse dog tags were allowed to continue, saying it “poisons the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State.”
The army may have retreated, but SoS has not.
SoS’s owner, Kenny Vaughan, contacted First Liberty Institute, a public interest law firm specializing in First Amendment cases. First Liberty sent a letter to the Director of the Army Trademark Licensing Program recently demanding that it rescind its directive to SoS. The letter, authored by Michael Berry, First Liberty’s Chief of Staff and Director of Military Affairs (and a veteran himself), charges the Army with violating the constitutional rights of SoS:
“Your directive that SoS remove all Biblical references from its Army-licensed products is unconstitutional and violates RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act). SoS does not relinquish its First Amendment rights by virtue of its status as a license-holder. Indeed, any requirement that SoS subject itself to such censorship as a condition to receiving a license would itself be an unconstitutional condition.”
An army spokesman told Fox News, “The Army can confirm receipt of the (First Liberty) letter. We are looking into the matter.”
The matter has also caught the attention of U.S. Congressman Jim Banks (R – IN), a former Navy Reserve officer who served in Afghanistan. He’s also a member of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees on Capitol Hill, and is passionate about our military personnel. Responding to an inquiry from The Daily Citizen, Rep. Banks said, “As a veteran, this is gravely disappointing. Every American, but particularly those in our armed forces, should be able to freely exercise their faith as enshrined in the Constitution.”
The Congressman also has some advice for the Army: “I strongly urge the Army Trademark Licensing Program and the Pentagon to reverse this decision as soon as possible.”
The Left’s continuing efforts to scrub Christianity from the public square is based on a misguided understanding of the First Amendment. Hopefully the Army will do an about-face and restore SoS’s right to provide our troops with the Bible verse dog tags that provide comfort and solace while they defend America’s freedom all over the globe. Military members swear an oath to “support and defend the constitution of the United States,” and they put their lives on the line to do so. Shouldn’t they be the first ones provided with the freedoms they protect?
Photo from Shields of Strength