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.’

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.”

After two years without a satisfactory response from the military, First Liberty Institute and the law firm Fish & Richardson filed a complaint on behalf of Shields in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.  Then, in May 2022, First Liberty Institute and t Fish & Richardson filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to immediately prohibit the Department of Defense from enforcing its discriminatory policy preventing Shields from producing and distributing military themed replica dog tags with encouraging Bible verses.

“Military commanders and servicemembers regularly ask for Shields of Strength products, but the DoD’s unconstitutional policy forces it to say no,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “We are asking the court to right this wrong immediately and allow Shields of Strength to deploy its inspirational messages to the troops who ask for them.”

“It’s frustrating that the government is preventing me from providing hope and courage to the men and women who protect our freedoms.”  said Kenny Vaughan, owner of Shields of Strength.  “I hope the court restores our ability to serve our brave military members with Shields of Strength.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.13.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Law Firm Urges Court to Halt Department of Defense Religious Discrimination against Shields of Strength
Shields forced to reject requests from military members for replica dog tags with Bible verses unless court intervenes

Washington, DC—Today, First Liberty Institute and the law firm Fish & Richardson filed a motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of Shields of Strength (“Shields”), seeking to immediately prohibit the Department of Defense (“DoD”) from enforcing its discriminatory policy preventing Shields from producing and distributing military themed replica dog tags with encouraging Bible verses.

The motion, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, can be read here.

“Military commanders and servicemembers regularly ask for Shields of Strength products, but the DoD’s unconstitutional policy forces it to say no,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “We are asking the court to right this wrong immediately and allow Shields of Strength to deploy its inspirational messages to the troops who ask for them.”

“It’s frustrating that the government is preventing me from providing hope and courage to the men and women who protect our freedoms.”  said Kenny Vaughan, owner of Shields of Strength.  “I hope the court restores our ability to serve our brave military members with Shields of Strength.”

As an example of the hostile and arbitrary application of the DoD’s policy, the Army arbitrarily denied the use of the phrase “One Nation Under God” but approved “In God We Trust” on Shields.  One email from the Army expressed concern that “One Nation Under God” is not “politically correct.”

For nearly 25 years, Kenny and his wife Tammie have been making Shields of Strength, military themed replica dog tags and jewelry with encouraging Bible verses, worn by American service members around the world. In 2019 the Department of Defense, at the urging of an activist organization’s cease-and-desist letter, prohibited Shields from producing or selling licensed items with religious content. First Liberty filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Shields in December.

Today’s petition argues, “The DoD’s increasing religious hostility culminated last year when Shields was unable to renew even its limited use of the trademark licenses. Shields requests that this Court grant a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo and allow Shields to continue making, selling, and donating its products with military insignia and words during the pendency of this action. The Court should grant the motion for a preliminary injunction and prevent the DoD and its service branches from enforcing the “intended to promote . . . religious beliefs” language of DODI 5535.12 against Shields of Strength while the case is pending.”

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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.

 


12/15/21 – News Release

1/15/20 – News Release

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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