This country is blessed to have numerous businesses that proudly support the United States military and its service members. Shields of Strength (“SoS”) is one such business. It is worth briefly sharing about SoS.
It was December 1998 that the first Shields of Strength were placed in a store. They sold well enough that by 2001, stores across the country were carrying them and on one fateful day they caught the eye of Colonel David Dodd. . . . When he contacted Kenny and Tammie about buying some in bulk they graciously gave Colonel Dodd 500 Shields for his combat-ready troops.
Born that day was a lifelong friendship and relationship between Shields of Strength and the military. The most popular “tag” for most soldiers was emblazoned with the U.S. Flag and engraved with Joshua 1:9. It’s this “tag” that made its way to a young Army Captain named Russell Rippetoe. . . .
In 2003, while serving in Iraq, Captain Rippetoe was killed in action while wearing a Shield of Strength. He was the first American casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
The following month, during the 2003 Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President Bush referenced the dog tag Captain Rippetoe was wearing and read the scripture engraved on it. It was a surreal moment for Kenny and his family and they had no idea and no way to prepare for the media storm to come. . . .
One call Kenny didn’t miss, however, was from Joe Rippetoe, Russell Rippetoe's father. Joe, who like his son was a veteran of war, was so taken by the Shield of Strength his son had worn that he wanted to make sure that each of the other soldiers from Russell’s unit had one. . . .
Since that time Kenny and Tammie have made over four million of the dog tags and have given hundreds of thousands of them to the U.S. military as well as other ministries. In fact, Stephen Mansfield wrote in his book, Faith of the American Soldier, “aside from the official insignias they wear, [the SOS dogtag] is the emblem most often carried by members of the military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unfortunately, one organization in particular is deeply troubled by the fact that SoS sells religious products that also include the official United States Marine Corps (“USMC”) emblem.
In fact, this past July, this organization, which claims—ironically—to support religious freedom in the Armed Forces, sent a cease and desist letter to the USMC Trademark and Licensing Program Office, demanding that the USMC “immediately revoke and cancel the current approval for ‘Shields of Strength’ to continue using the official USMC emblem on any and/or all of its religious items for sale.”
The organization erroneously relied on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
What this organization fails to understand, however, is the following. If the USMC approved the sale of SoS religious products that include the official USMC emblem and also approved the sale of SoS non-religious products that include the USMC emblem, then there is not a First Amendment problem. In fact, in this context, if the USMC were to prohibit the sale of SoS religious products that include the USMC emblem, while permitting the sale of non-religious products with the USMC emblem, the USMC would be in violation of the First Amendment by denigrating religious expression in favor of non-religious expression.
Unfortunately, the USMC has done just that. According to reports, the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office pulled the SoS license in response to the organization’s complaint.
In light of this, the ACLJ recently sent a Freedom of Information Act request (“FOIA request”) to the USMC Headquarters to determine the basis for the USMC’s decision. Specifically, the ACLJ requested, among other items, all of the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office emails pertaining to Shields of Strength dating back to January 2017 as well as a list of all firms licensed to use the USMC emblem on products they produce.
The US military personnel deserve better. US service men and women put their lives on the line for the sake of others on a daily basis. As such, the ACLJ is going to get to the bottom of this. We will not stop until we get answers. The ACLJ stands strong with our military and like-minded businesses that support our military.
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