by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
This week, First Liberty filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of our client, Shields of Strength, a Christian company that graciously provides replica dog tags with inspirational Bible verses to active-duty service members, veterans and their families who want them.
We’re asking a federal court to review and reverse decisions by military branches that forbid Shields of Strength from making the tags.
“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.”
You’ll recall that this case began because of an outrageous attack from the deceptively-named Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Last year, MRFF—notorious for attacking virtually any religious expression in the military—sent an unfounded complaint to the U.S. Department of Defense. This prompted the U.S. Army Trademark Licensing Office and the U.S. Marine Corps to ban the company from producing tags with military insignia or logos alongside religious messages.
Far from helping our military service members or protecting religious freedom in our armed forces, MRFF has simply created a problem where none exists. For decades, it’s been more than clear that military service members love wearing Shields of Strength to help encourage them in their most difficult moments.
With our recent lawsuit, First Liberty is seeking to set the record straight. There’s no legal reason for the military to discriminate against Shields of Strength. What’s more, 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.
Shields of Strength are much more than just pieces of metal on a chain for men and women of faith in our military. These Scripture-inscribed dog tags are a source of reassurance, a symbol of sacrifice and a tangible reminder of the strength gained through their faith.
As one veteran puts it:
“This tag is faith. It’s believing that you’re going to live—and that even if you die, you’ll be holding hands with God for eternity. That’s what it means to me, and every veteran I know feels the same way.”
Kenny Vaughan and his wife Tammie founded Shields of Strength in 1997 to encourage thousands of military service members. In fact, one of the very first requests came from a military unit about to be deployed.
In late 2001, U.S. Army Colonel David Dodd was in command of the 86th Signal Battalion as he and his troops prepared for deployment to Afghanistan for the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. At that time, Col. Dodd inquired about buying Shields of Strength in bulk to take them overseas. Kenny and Tammie graciously gave Colonel Dodd 500 Shields for his combat-ready troops.
During the Iraq War, Shields of Strength donated more than 50,000 pieces a month and even fulfilled a single request for 30,000 pieces. To date, the Vaughan’s have made more than five (5) million dog tags and given hundreds of thousands to active-duty members and veterans of the U.S. military, first responders and the families of fallen heroes.
It’s harsh and unkind that an outside group like the MRFF would pursue a radical agenda and seek to deny our service members—particularly those who may have to fight in the fiercest battles—the right to wear inspirational jewelry.
Nowhere are attacks on faith more repugnant than those aimed at the men and women who voluntarily placed their lives on the line to defend the freedom of others. That’s why First Liberty is fighting to make sure outside, anti-faith groups don’t get away with stripping away the rights of our men and women in uniform—especially their God-given freedom to find inspiration in their faith.