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Back in 2019, an online Christian jewelry store was forced to stop selling dog tags with emblems of the Marine Corps and Navy after those military branches demanded they cease the unauthorized usage. Now that store, Shields of Strengthis attempting to get its revenge.

Here’s the problem with those tags: While it’s fine for designers to make a T-shirt that says “My son is in the Army” or “My daughter is in the Air Force,” they’re not allowed to use the actual logos of those branches without explicit permission. The military always wants to avoid that kind of suggested endorsement. In fact, the Department of Defense’s own rules go even further, prohibiting the designs on any items that promote certain ideologies or religious beliefs.

Shields of Strength was doing it anyway. They claimed to have explicit permission from one branch, but certainly not all of them. (And even that one would have been a violation of DoD regulations.)

When this was first happening, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation‘s founder Mikey Weinstein sent letters to all of the military branches urging them to put a stop to this by issuing cease and desist notices against the Christian company — and demanding that the people in the government responsible for this be publicly reprimanded.

There was some success with that approach. According to MRFF, an attorney for the U.S. Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office was able to get the store to take down the Marine Corps and Navy dog tags. (At the time, the Army and Air Force dog tags were still available for purchase.)

I thought this whole story basically ended years ago, but now the people behind Shields of Strength are suing the Department of Defense and the individual branches of the U.S. military claiming that all of this is a form of religious persecution.

… In July 2019, over two decades after SoS began selling its military-themed products, a non-governmental organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”), submitted complaints to various DoD Trademark Licensing Offices demanding that the DoD and individual service branches prohibit SoS from producing and selling DoD-licensed items that contain religious content. Despite years of licensed sales of such items by SoS, the DoD and the service branches promptly complied with the MRFF’s demands and sent SoS cease-and-desist notices prohibiting SoS from producing or selling licensed items with religious content.

SoS files this action in order to freely exercise its religious liberties and continue making, selling, and donating its products free from impermissible and improper interference from the DoD and Service Branches.

The lawsuit itself reads like a joke because there’s a lot of space spent describing the good working relationship the two sides had, and how much individual soldiers appreciated the dog tags, and how they weren’t punished earlier for what they did.

None of that is relevant. The Department of Defense has a set policy that prohibits its logos from being licensed “for any purpose intended to promote ideological movements, sociopolitical change, religious beliefs (including non-belief), specific interpretations of morality, or legislative/statutory change.” That’s not discriminatory! It’s not like a company run by an atheist can selling similar dog tags with military logos and a non-theistic quotation on the back.

Once the military branches became aware of what this company was doing, they put a stop to it. In the Army’s case, according to the lawsuit, the company was given permission to use paraphrases of Bible verses (like “I can do all things”) without linking it specifically to the religious text, but that, the owners say, “substantially burdened” their religious beliefs. [Cue eye roll]

It also doesn’t help that they’re blaming MRFF for bringing these tags to the military’s attention. The lawsuit refers to MRFF as a group that “advocates for a so-called ‘separation of Church and state.’” So-called! As if that’s not an actual concern of the group.

I get a shout-out too! (After a reference to the Army Trademark Licensing Program Office.)

Glad to help out. [*Hemant salutes*]

None of this actually burdens their faith. No one has some fundamental religious right to sell products using someone else’s trademarks. But even if they were sincerely offended, it’s not because the military has some anti-Christian policy in play here. The rules apply to all groups with ideological positions. Just because certain branches of the military didn’t enforce the regulations carefully in the past doesn’t mean they can’t take them more seriously in the future.

The lawsuit, which has the backing of the conservative legal group First Liberty Institute, says that the inability to sell the dog tags they want violates the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment… which is downright bizarre since the military has always bent over backwards to accommodate Christians. Among the additional claims, they also cite a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as if the DoD’s policies “substantially burden” the practice of their faith.

When I asked Mikey Weinstein if MRFF has any thoughts about this lawsuit, he was very blunt about it:

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.

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. The complaint repeatedly mentions Shields of Strength’s other products, such as its dog tags with a flag image or the words “Army Mom” on them, although the DoD has never said that Shields of Strength cannot continue producing and selling these other products

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

Good luck to Shields of Strength when it comes to proving any of their claims of persecution. The entire lawsuit is nothing more than sophisticated-sounding whining coming from Christians who believe the rules shouldn’t apply to them because Jesus overrides any and all neutral policies.

(via Religion Clause)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.