BEAUMONT, Texas — A Christian jewelry company is at risk of losing permission to use the Army logo on its dog tags after the Army Trademark Licensing Program recently told the company that it can’t include Scripture on its products if it is also going to use the Army emblem.
“You are not authorized to put biblical verses on your Army products. For example, Joshua 1:9. Please remove ALL biblical references from all of your Army products,” Army Trademark Licensing Program director Paul Jensen wrote to Shields of Strength President Kenny Vaughan in August.
According to the Army Times, the matter began when the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), led by Mikey Weinstein, contacted the Army Trademark office to advise that it had received more than 50 complaints about the dog tags.
Weinstein stated that the use of Scripture with the logo violates Department of Defense (DoD) regulations that prohibit Army emblems from being used to promote religion — or nonreligion — as well as specific stances on morality, legislation and sociopolitical efforts.
“DoD marks may not be licensed for any purpose intended to promote ideological movements, sociopolitical change, religious beliefs (including non-belief), specific interpretations of morality, or legislative/statutory change,” the rules read, according to a document from 2013.
The Army licenses private entities the right to use the logo, as long as they abide by the regulations. Army tags on the Shields of Strength website include the Army emblem on one side and a personalized version of Joshua 1:9 on the other, reading: “I will be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid. I will not be discouraged.” The Shields of Strength logo is displayed below the Scripture.
“Such craven utilization of American military logos and related symbology by this sectarian Christian group (Shields of Strength) not only viciously violates well established DoD regulatory law but also poisons the Constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State,” Weinstein said a statement.
However, First Liberty Institute, which is representing Shields of Strength, disagrees that the tags flout the Constitution as the separation of Church and State would rather prohibit the government from interfering with private religious speech.
Shields of Strength, a Texas-based for-profit corporation, identifies its mission on its website as “to share the love, hope, forgiveness, and power of God’s Word with others and to see people victorious in life’s battles and in a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“When private entities engage in religious expression, they are fully protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses. The United States Supreme Court has affirmed this fundamental principle repeatedly,” Chief of Staff Mike Berry wrote in a letter to Jensen on Dec. 3.
“Your censorship of SoS’s religious expression amounts to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination because your directive to SoS censors or bans only its religious speech, solely because it is religious,” he stated.
Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham also recently sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to obtain clarification on the military’s stance on the matter. He told Fox News last week that he views the dog tags as being private — not government — speech as they belong to the soldier, and it should be an individual’s right to wear Scripture on a necklace if they wish.
“These dog tags belong to the individual service member and not allowing Bible verses to be inscribed on them, per their wishes, is an infringement on their personal freedom — the same freedom they fight to protect on our behalf,” Abraham stated.
Similarly, the Conference of Jewish Affairs has asked the Army to reconsider its request, stating, “No soldier is forced to inscribe a biblical verse on his personal dog tag, though the Army has over the years allowed soldiers to do so if they wish. … The Army is not promoting religion, rather allowing soldiers to exercise their personal religious needs.”
As previously reported, Weinstein has a long history of objecting to the promotion of Christianity in the military. In 2013, he asked Department of Defense officials to punish superiors who attempted to proselytize their subordinates.
“It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein asserted.
He also appeared before Congress a year later, where he was questioned by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., about his hostility toward Christianity.
“On June 16, 2013, you said, ‘Today we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nations armed forces.’ Did you you make that quote?” Forbes asked.
“I did,” Weinstein replied frankly.
In 2015, he wrote a blog post calling for the ousting of Christian chaplains who disagree with same-sex “marriage,” and also demanded that Satan, Allah, Odin and others be added to a “God bless the military” display in Hawaii.
Last year, he unsuccessfully opposed the inclusion of the Bible on a Missing Man table in Okinawa, Japan, stating that the “Christian Bible stands out like a tarantula on a wedding cake.” A similar case made headlines earlier this year regarding the Missing Man table at the Manchester Veterans Medical Center in New Hampshire.