- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2019

A House Republican is calling on the Defense Department to clarify its policy on licensing merchandise, after The Washington Times reported that the Army’s trademark office has directed a Christian jeweler to stop engraving Bible verses on replica dog tags.

Rep. Ralph Abraham, Louisiana Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called out “troubling reports” about the Army’s action in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper seeking clarification on the Pentagon’s “logo licensing policy for productions containing” biblical verses.

“It is my understanding that the Department of Defense and services have threatened to terminate trademark licenses to a company because that company sells dog tags that refer to, or contain bible verses,” Mr. Abraham wrote. “Please provide clarification on this issue, including summary information on DoD’s policy regarding the licensing agreements, as well as any actions that have been taken to exterminate licensing agreements related to this or similar issues.”

The Times reported Thursday that Shields of Strength, a Christian jewelry maker in Beaumont, Texas, is contending with the Army Trademark Licensing Program, which directed the company in August to stop displaying military insignia and Bible verses on its replica dog tags. The First Liberty Institute, which specializes in religious liberty cases, is representing the company and sent a letter to the Army challenging the directive.

Mr. Abraham on Thursday posted remarks about the dispute on Facebook and Twitter, saying any move by the Pentagon to “cancel the license” due to animus toward the Christian-based company’s religion is “wrong.”

“This infringes on their personal liberty,” Mr. Abraham tweeted. “[T]he same liberty they [U.S. troops] put their lives on the line to defend.”

An Army spokesman on Thursday would only confirm receipt of First Liberty’s letter, adding: “We are looking into the matter.”

Attorneys for Shields of Strength say the for-profit company has been making and selling the replica dog tags since 2002. Many of the faux identification tags feature an official marker of the Navy, Army, Air Force or Marines on the front and a Christian Bible verse engraved on the back.

According to First Liberty’s letter, Shields of Strength has held a licensing agreement with the Army’s trademark office since 2012. It accuses the Army to bowing pressure from negative press generated by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a church-and-state separation watchdog group that aired its criticism of the replica dog tags this summer.

Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein sent letters to each military branch calling for an end of their licensing agreements with Shields of Strength, citing complaints from service members about the company illegally profiting from and proselytizing with military logos.

Shields of Strength founder Kenny Vaughan says his company has sold or given away millions of the dog tags.

In 2003, President George W. Bush referred to a Shields of Strength dog tag at the funeral for Army Capt. Russell Rippetoe, the first combat casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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