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Marine Corps bans Bible verse replica dog tags after complaint from military-church separation group

Military Dog Tags - War Memorial - Old North Memorial Garden, Boston, Mass. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
January 17, 2020

The Marine Corps is facing a lawsuit after banning military “dog tag” replicas that include Scripture and Scripture-inspired passages created by a faith-based organization.

The organization, Shields of Strength, has had to deny thousands of requests to produce the replicas because the Defense Department has said it will no longer allow religious messages on licensed Marine material, Fox News reported.

First Liberty, the law firm representing Shields of Strength argues this action has violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, while the group that originally made the complaint, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, argues that the material was a violation of the separation of Church and State.

Kenny Vaughan founded Shields of Strength in 1998 and has been working with the military to help inspire service members across the globe with the dog tag replicas since after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

“It’s frustrating that those who are fighting for our freedom can’t have a Shield simply because the military is afraid of an outside activist group,” Vaughan said in a statement. “I hope the Marine Corps reverses course and restores the ability of our brave military members to own a Shield of Strength.”

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Shields of Strength has produced more than 4 million dog tags for service members.

Mike Berry, chief of staff for First Liberty Institute, wrote in a letter to the Marine Corps trademark office that it has violated service members’ rights.

“Events of the past several weeks make clear that our military personnel are constantly exposed to danger. And yet the MRFF seeks to deny them the freedom to wear Shields of Strength,”said Berry, a Marine Corps veteran. “Denying our troops a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message is an outrage.”

Berry, who served in Afghanistan, blasted Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s founder and president Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran, for the move.

“Just when I didn’t think Mikey Weinstein could stoop any lower, he pulled a stunt like that,” he told Fox News. “He’d rather take it away from them just to raise his own publicity than support our service members … that’s pretty cowardly and that’s cruel.”

The issue with the Defense Department of letting service members wear dog tag replicas with Bible verses appears to have began in the Obama era, when Jessica O’Haver, the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Director, sent Vaughan an email on July 20, 2011, stating “we do not feel comfortable licensing religious materials.”

Again in 2017, O’Haver sent Vaughan an email that said there was a new policy that was issued in 2013 that prohibited the Defense Department from licensing to material for the “purpose intended to promote . . . religious beliefs (including non-belief).”

Shields of Strength was eventually able to obtain the license in August of 2018 and continued producing Marine Corps-themed items.

Republicans in the House and Senate have also demanded the Defense Department allow Shields of Strength to continue producing the material, including Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La.

“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 told Fox News.