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Department of Defense blocks Christian business; issue goes to court

By Casey Harper
The Center Square

A Christian business selling dog tags with Bible verses won a legal victory this week in its long fight to overturn a government ban on its business.

The business in question, Shields of Strength, is run by Kenny and Tammie Vaughan and sells an array of Christian-themed inspirational jewelry. The business created military dog tags for U.S. service members, selling two million and donating another 2 million to inspire and encourage American troops.

However, after one group complained about the effort, the U.S. Department of Defense in 2019 ordered Shields of Strength to stop distributing the dog tags, saying they engaged in trademark infringement.

The Vaughns argue that the DOD is violating their First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech.

This week, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division refused to fully dismiss Shields of Strength’s lawsuit against the government, meaning it will proceed in court.

“The First Amendment claims survive that test,” the ruling said. “Because the Constitution itself provides judicially manageable standards, a claim that agency action violates the Constitution is reviewable unless Congress’s intent to bar review is ‘clear.’ And nothing establishes such a ‘clear’ bar to review of constitutional claims here.”

The U.S. Army in 2012 had granted a trademark license to the business for its work, but later the Department of Defense changed course. In fact, the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps all previously gave trademark licenses for the business.

Kenny Vaughn said his business supports American troops and veterans and should not be targeted.

“Shields of Strength has been a source of strength and encouragement for our military heroes for over 25 years,” he said in a statement. “Every dog tag we ever made was at the request of the troops and their families and it was our honor to do so. The hardest part has been declining requests for the last several years. We look forward to the day we no longer have to say no to a Solider, Marine, Sailor, or Airman who is asking for a reminder of God’s promise.” 

First Liberty Institute, a group involved in the case, welcomed the ruling as a win for Shields of Strength.

“The decision by the court is a victory not only for Shields of Strength and its owner, Kenny Vaughan, but also for the brave men and women of our armed forces and their families who gain divine inspiration from Shields’ replica dog tags containing biblical scripture and military insignia,” Senior Counsel and Chair of the Military Affairs practice group for First Liberty Institute Danielle Runyan said in a statement.

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