US military's restriction on religiously themed dog tags results in lawsuit

Shields of Strength (SoS), a Texas-based business, has been providing dog tags for years even though DOD policy prohibits the use of its trademark on products that promote religious or other types of messages.

The department’s policy reads: “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.”

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According to Tuesday’s complaint, the military sent SoS cease and desist letters after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) threatened legal action in 2019.

The Pentagon 

The Pentagon  (iStock)

First Liberty Institute, which represents SoS, claims that the military’s policy is unconstitutional and that its decision to deny trademark license applications was “arbitrary and capricious.” More specifically, it claims the military is violating the First Amendment’s right to free speech, in addition to its free exercise and establishment of religion clauses.

Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon Aug. 13, 2021.

Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon Aug. 13, 2021. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It’s a cruel insult to our service members to deny them a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement simply because it contains a religious message,” said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute. 

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“DOD officials caved to the empty threats of those who make their living by being offended. There’s no legal reason for the military to discriminate against Shields of Strength.”

In a statement to Fox News, MRFF founder and president Michael Weinstein criticized First Liberty’s complaint and argued that SoS was still able to produce dog tags without Defense Department marks.

“The complaint, which weakly tries to cast the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as the evil, bête noire, main villain here, outrageously plays down that the issue was Shields of Strength’s use of the trademarked Department of Defense (DoD) branch emblems on its religious products,” said Weinstein. 

“It is only these products with an official DoD emblem for which a DoD license is required that the DoD has said Shields of Strength cannot sell,” he added (emphasis added by Weinstein).

Weinstein went on to say that “Shields of Strength is and has always been free to produce and sell its other products. Hopefully, any competent Federal judge will easily see through First Liberty Institute’s specious subterfuge and justly rule in favor of the DoD via DoD, or DoJ on behalf of DoD, filing a simple Motion for Summary Judgment or other routine, preliminary dispositive Motions.”

U.S. military personnel walk on the tarmac at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) in Seongnam, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 18, 2021. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. military personnel walk on the tarmac at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) in Seongnam, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 18, 2021. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

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