Shields of Strength | Cases | First Liberty

Personal Inspiration

For over 20 years Kenny Vaughan and his wife Tammie have been making Shields of Strength replica dog tags with encouraging Bible verses on them for members of the armed forces and first responders. Kenny got the idea after Tammie wrote a bible verse on his waterski rope before a competition in 1996. The verse gave him courage during the competition, so he began making these dog tags hoping to encourage others who may be facing fear.

In 2001 one of the tags caught Army Colonel David Dodd’s eye, commander of the 86th Signal Battalion. Colonel Dodd and his troops were headed into Afghanistan for the start of Operation Enduring Freedom when he inquired about purchasing some of the dog tags. Instead, Kenny and Tammie donated 500 Shields of Strength to encourage the troops.

In 2003, while serving in Iraq, Captain Russell Rippetoe was killed in action while wearing a Shields of Strength dog tag. At the 2003 Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President George Bush referenced the dog tag on Rippetoe, and read the scripture. Thousands reached out afterward wanting dog tags.

To date, the Vaughan’s have made over 4 million dog tags and given hundreds of thousands to the U.S. military and other ministries. During the Iraq War, they donated over 50,000 pieces a month and even fulfilled a single request for 30,000 pieces.

In 2012, the U.S. Army granted a trademark license to Shields of Strength to feature Army trademarks on its products.

In July 2019, a news article once again spoke of the distribution of 4 million Shields of Strength dog tags. Shortly after the article ran, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent a complaint to the Department of Defense regarding the use of military logos with religious symbols. MRFF demanded an investigation even though Kenny had trademark licenses to use the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps logos.

“I was shocked that there are groups in America that would go on the attack against Shields of Strength that have inspired so many of our fighting men and women,” said Kenny Vaughan, owner of Shields of Strength. “I hope the Army sees that the very freedom our soldiers fight for is at stake.”

However, after receiving the letter, the Army sent Mr. Vaughan an email informing him that he was not authorized to put biblical verses on Army products, and that he needed to remove all biblical references from all army products, and from product descriptions on the Shields of Strength Website.

That’s when First Liberty reached out to Kenny and offered to represent him. First Liberty sent a letter to the United States Army Trademark Licensing Office urging it to reinstate licenses. The letter explained that, once the government has created a limited public forum via a trademark licensing regime, it cannot ‘discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint.’

“It’s a cruel insult to our fighting men and women to deny them inspirational jewelry simply because it has a religious message,” said Mike Berry, Chief of Staff for First Liberty Institute. “The MRFF is twisting the law in its cruel attempt to deny inspirational Shields of Strength to military personnel. Army officials should just ignore the message of those who make their living by being offended.”

Then, in January 2020, First Liberty sent a similar letter to the United States Marine Corp Licensing Office after the USMC denied to license Kenny’s Shields because of their religious nature.  Added Berry, “Events of the past several weeks make clear that our military personnel are constantly exposed to danger. And yet the MRFF seeks to deny them the freedom to wear Shields of Strength. Denying our troops a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message is an outrage. The Marine Corps should tell the MRFF to support our troops, not punish them.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 1.14.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Marine Corps Bans Inspirational Replica Dog Tags After Complaint by Activist Group
Religious liberty law firm urges Marine Corps to allow replica dog tags, other inspirational jewelry

Washington, DC—First Liberty Institute today sent a letter to the United States Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office urging it to allow Shields of Strength (“Shields”), a private, faith-based, business to continue producing military-themed items such as replica “dog tags” and jewelry.  The USMC banned Shields from making replica dog tags with inspirational Bible verses after it received a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).

You can read the letter here.

“Events of the past several weeks make clear that our military personnel are constantly exposed to danger. And yet the MRFF seeks to deny them the freedom to wear Shields of Strength,” said Mike Berry, Chief of Staff for First Liberty Institute. “Denying our troops a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message is an outrage. The Marine Corps should tell the MRFF to support our troops, not punish them.”

Because of the USMC’s decision, Shields of Strength had to decline a recent request for 2,000 replica dog tags made by a Marine Corps unit to be distributed upon request to individual Marines, many of whom could soon be deployed to the Middle East during rising tensions.

“It’s frustrating that those who are fighting for our freedom can’t have a Shield simply because the military is afraid of an outside activist group,” said Kenny Vaughan, owner of Shields of Strength.  “I hope the Marine Corps reverses course and restores the ability of our brave military members to own a Shield of Strength.”

In its letter to the Marine Corps, First Liberty argues that, “Once the government has created a limited public forum via a trademark licensing regime, it cannot ‘discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint.’ The Marine Corps is therefore prohibited from discriminating against [Shields] because of its inclusion of biblical references on its products, in its advertisements, or on its website.”

For over 20 years Kenny Vaughan and his wife Tammie have been making Shields of Strength replica dog tags with encouraging Bible verses or references on them for service members and first responders.  Shields of Strength replica dog tags bear various military-themed emblems, logos, or insignia on one side and various faith-based messages such as Scripture verses or references on the other side.  To date, the Vaughn’s have made over 4 million dog tags and given hundreds of thousands to the U.S. military and other ministries. During the Iraq War, they donated over 50,000 pieces a month and even fulfilled a single request for 30,000 pieces.  Each branch of the military grants licenses to vendors to feature military trademarks on products.

Last year, MRFF sent a letter to the Army threatening “administrative and litigation complaints” to “compel compliance” unless the SoS stopped including religious references on its licensed products.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


12/3/19 – News Release

Shields of Strength | Dog Tags | First Liberty

Shields of Strength | First Liberty

Shields of Strength | First Liberty

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