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.

“It’s a cruel insult to our service members to deny them a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message,” said Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “DOD officials caved to the empty threats of those who make their living by being offended. There’s no legal reason for the military to discriminate against Shields of Strength.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.15.21
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Lawsuit Filed After U.S. Military Discriminates  Against Company Because of Inspirational “Dog Tags”
Religious liberty law firm files federal lawsuit in effort to reinstate trademark license for replica dog tags, other inspirational jewelry

Washington, DC—Today, First Liberty Institute and the law firm Fish & Richardson filed a complaint on behalf of Shields of Strength (“Shields”) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division. Shields has been making military themed replica dog tags and jewelry with encouraging Bible verses on them for various branches of service for over 20 years. 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.

You can read the complaint here.

“It’s a cruel insult to our service members to deny them a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message,” said Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “DOD officials caved to the empty threats of those who make their living by being offended. There’s no legal reason for the military to discriminate against Shields of Strength.”

Kenny and Tammie Vaughan started their company in 1998 with the mission to encourage men and women of our armed forces by providing them with a tangible reminder of Divine protection and strength. Since then, Shields has sold or donated over four million dog tags. Each branch of the armed forces licenses the use of their trademarks for private or commercial use. Shields received licenses from the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, but after a complaint by an anti‑religious activist organization, the Department of Defense stripped Shields’ of its license to make the inspirational dog tags.

According to Shields’ complaint, the DOD’s policy declaring that, “DOD marks may not be licensed for any purpose intended to promote….religious beliefs” violates the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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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.


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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