Recent reports say that a battle is brewing in the military over dog tags that contain Bible verses.
A dog tag is basically a nameplate used to identify injured or dead soldiers. Every military soldier carries two, one usually worn around his or her neck, and the other usually kept within his or her shoes.
According to the First Liberty Institute, a legal non-profit that defends religious liberty, secularists with the notorious Military Religious Freedom Foundation are actively seeking “to undercut our troops’ spiritual readiness by denying them the ability to obtain replica dog tags with Bible verses inscribed on them.”
The claim centers on the company Shields of Strength and its founder, Kenny Vaughan.
“Kenny Vaughan started Shields of Strength (‘SoS’). SoS is a small, faith-based company from Texas that produces military-themed items inscribed with encouraging Bible verses,” First Liberty Institute chief of staff Mike Berry wrote in an op-ed for the Military Times.
“For more than two decades, Kenny has been making these inspirational replica dog tags for service members and first responders. To date, SoS has donated hundreds of thousands of its replica dog tags to military units.”
However, according to Berry, the MRFF suddenly butt its head into the matter by threatening to take legal action unless the Pentagon “banned SoS from including religious references on its licensed products.”
The Pentagon reportedly complied.
“Shockingly, Pentagon officials immediately raised the white flag of surrender and did exactly as MRFF demanded,” Berry explained. “One official even cited the ‘negative press’ the MRFF caused as the basis for its decision. As a result, SoS has had to deny requests for its replica dog tags.”
The MRFF and its allies claim that this isn’t the full story.
In an op-ed published two days after Berry’s piece dropped last week, MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda said that the “real issue with these Bible verse dog tags is that they have the official trademarked Marine Corps emblem on them, in violation of military trademark regulations.”
“Nobody is stopping Mr. Berry’s client’s company from making Bible verse dog tags or stopping Marines from wearing them — they just can’t be officially licensed by the Marine Corps and have the trademarked Marine Corps emblem on them,” he wrote.
But why was this never an issue before? After all, SoS has been providing service members with dog tags “for more than two decades.”
Kayla Williams of the Center for a New American Security think-tank attempted to answer this question in her own op-ed for The Hill published Sunday.
She claimed that “[d]og tags with Air Force and Army symbols and religious verses are still for sale.”
But she contradicted herself by pointing to quotes from the Marine Corps, which in 2011 said it did “not feel comfortable licensing religious materials,” and which in 2017 referenced a Department of Defense policy that prohibits DOD licenses “for any purpose intended to promote … religious beliefs.”
According to the First Liberty Institute, THIS isn’t the full story.
“Prior to 2011, the Marine Corps did not require SoS to obtain a license in order to sell Marine Corps-themed products,” the institute noted in a letter sent earlier this month to the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office.
“In 2011, the Marine Corps first notified SoS it would either need to obtain a license in order to continue selling Marine Corps-themed products, or alternatively, SoS could sell products so long as it did not promote those products as being licensed by the Marine Corps. Accordingly, SoS began the process of obtaining a license from the Marine Corps to use Marine Corps trademarks (‘marks’) on SoS products.”
Everything appears to have been fine afterward up until MRFF intervened by reporting “Shields of Strength’s violations of military trademark and licensing regulations” to “various branches of the military,” as Rodda admitted to in his own op-ed.
“At that time, Shields of Strength removed its Navy and Marines products that had the official emblems on them, but continued, and continues, to sell its Air Force and Army Bible verse dog tags with the official emblems of those branches despite receiving a letter from the Army telling them to cease doing so,” he added.
The rest of his piece continued by blasting SoS for violating the military’s rules, while the rest of Kayla Williams’s piece continued by essentially claiming that Christianity is a dying religion.
“A rapidly-shrinking share of adults identify as Christians; at the same time the percent who identify as religiously unaffiliated is climbing dramatically and there has been slow but steady growth in the number of those who identify as holding non-Christian faiths,” she wrote.
All in all, while this appears to be a very complicated matter involving certain rules, it is clear that the military allowed SoS to skirt these rules for years.
But then the MRFF suddenly intervened last July, and on account of their intervention, America’s men and women in uniform may reportedly no longer purchase SoS dog tags containing Bible verses. And according to SoS’s founder, Vaughan, that’s a tragedy.
“Recently, one Marine Corps unit requested for 2,000 replica dog tags to be distributed to Marines who want them,” Berry wrote in concluding his piece.
“Many of those Marines could very well find themselves in harm’s way in the near future. Sadly, because of MRFF and the Marine Corps Trademark Office’s decision, SoS is not able to fulfill their request, leaving Kenny Vaughan heartbroken.”