by Jorge Gomez • 7 min read
As we observe Memorial Day, we’re reminded that the most powerful weapon in the world isn’t a tank, a stealth bomber or even an aircraft carrier.
It’s the American service member, who answers the call to serve and to sacrifice.
These courageous men and women would not hesitate to go into harm’s way to protect this nation we so dearly love. Many of them make the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives so that you and I can continue to have the freedoms and rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Despite our military heroes risking their lives, there are some who persistently try to deny them of those same, hard-won liberties.
The last place one would expect to find attacks on our constitutional freedoms would be in the military. However, bias and censorship against religious service members or expressions of faith is pervasive. Chaplains, decorated veterans, remembrance displays to those who went missing in action and even memorials honoring the fallen have all been attacked.
The good news is First Liberty has a stellar track record of defending religious liberty in the armed forces. Headed by our Mike Berry—a former active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer—First Liberty’s military division has won victory after victory on behalf of service members facing religious hostility.
What’s most alarming is that the threat is not only coming from radical, outside groups who vehemently oppose religious expression. There are some inside the military who continue harassing and punishing service members who want to serve in a manner consistent with their beliefs.
First Liberty’s clients—along with thousands of our military heroes—are the ones paying the consequences of this disturbing shift towards discrimination and silencing. Not only have they been wrongly and unjustly labeled “extremists” in some cases, but their distinguished careers, years of service and their livelihoods have all been threatened.
This is what’s happening to our 35 U.S. Navy SEAL clients.
These brave warriors dedicate years of their lives, sacrificing themselves physically and mentally through rigorous training. Collectively, they have more than 350 years of military service and more than 100 combat deployments. Not to mention, they’re the ones sent on highly dangerous missions, often in the most hostile areas around the world.
Shockingly, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Biden administration are threatening their careers—all because they requested a legal, religious accommodation to the military vaccine mandate. For wanting to serve in accordance with their beliefs, these SEALs have been threatened with involuntary separation, denied advancement opportunities and, in some cases, even denied medical care.
This mistreatment of our nation’s most elite fighters is outrageous and illegal. Forcing them to choose between their faith and serving their country dishonors the sacrifices they make to keep us free.
First Liberty continues fighting for our Navy SEALs. We’ve secured several key near-term victories over the last several months. These wins have helped protect our clients from further punishment while the case is being heard and, thanks to a class action, have extended protection to thousands of Navy personnel with religious objections to the mandate.
However, the fight is far from over. Their case is pending in federal court, which means we’re still in an intense battle for their rights.
We’re also in a crucial legal battle for our client, Shields of Strength. For more than 20 years, this Christian company has graciously provided replica dog tags with inspirational Scriptures to active-duty service members and veterans who want them.
Our legal team recently filed a request for a preliminary injunction in federal district court. Our petition seeks to stop the DoD from enforcing its discriminatory policy while the case is being heard. That policy is preventing Shields from producing and distributing military themed replica dog tags and jewelry with encouraging Bible verses.
This case began because of an outrageous attack from the deceptively named Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). In 2019, 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.
It’s harsh and unkind to deny our service members the right to wear them just because they have a religious message. Far from making our nation’s heroes feel appreciated, it’s a cruel insult to rip away this source of inspiration and encouragement.
As Military Appreciation Month winds to a close, we encourage you to join First Liberty..
Please join us as we fight for the rights of our veterans and service members. The cases we’re fighting right now could have a major impact on the freedoms of our clients and thousands serving in the military. They need your support to help put a stop to the barrage of violations against their religious liberty.