JudicialReligious Liberty Group Moves to Stop DOD from Discriminating Against Christian Dog Tag Manufacturer

A Texas manufacturer of military jewelry is seeking to stop the Department of Defense from discriminating against it based on its religious messages.
May 17, 2022
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On Friday, First Liberty, a nonprofit firm defending religious liberty, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Department of Defense (DOD) claiming that it is discriminating against its client’s religious content. 

The motion was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

Shields of Strength, a jewelry company that manufactures replica dog tags with inspirational messages for military members, claims that the DOD has a trademark-licensing policy that unconstitutionally targets religious messages.

According to the motion, the DOD has engaged in viewpoint discrimination because its policy allows inspirational quotes and topics “but excludes inspirational messages from a Biblical viewpoint.”

For years, the DOD allowed Shields of Strength to use the military insignias on its products without issues. The company, located in Beaumont, was founded in 1996 by John Kennedy Vaughan, to share messages of “love, hope, and forgiveness” on jewelry items.

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It has sold and donated many such items, like replica dog tags, to service members over the years.

All was well until 2011 when the DOD tightened its policies, the motion states. A few months ago, the policies grew so tight that Shields of Strength “was unable to renew even its limited trademark licenses with the Army and Marine Corps. Because of the DOD’s escalating religious hostility, [Shields of Strength] is no longer able to provide replica dog tags even upon request of service members or the military units in which they serve.”

Besides violating the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the motion also appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prohibits the government from placing a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion unless the government can prove that it furthers a compelling government interest undertaken by the least restrictive means.

The motion argues that the history of interactions between the DOD and Shields of Strength until 2011 demonstrate that there is no compelling government interest to limit the military insignia usage.

It also argues that even if the DOD has a compelling government interest, it could simply require that Shields of Strength include a small disclaimer on its packaging saying the messages “do not represent the views of the DOD.”

“Military commanders and servicemembers regularly ask for Shields of Strength products, but the DOD’s unconstitutional policy forces it to say no,” Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute, said in a press release. 

“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.”

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.