Last July, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s MRFF complained to the US military that Shields of Strength was combining US military trademarks with Bible verses on novelty dog tags. SoS did have authorization to use the military trademarks, but the Army told SoS to stop to prevent the “negative press.” A few weeks ago, the Marines did the same thing. First Liberty has come to their defense.
In an op-ed published at the Military Times earlier this week, First Liberty’s Mike Berry told the story:
Kenny Vaughan started Shields of Strength (“SoS”). SoS is a small, faith-based company from Texas that produces military-themed items inscribed with encouraging Bible verses. For more than two decades, Kenny has been making these inspirational replica dog tags for service members and first responders. To date, SoS has donated hundreds of thousands of its replica dog tags to military units…
Over the years, SoS replica dog tags became so popular and so nearly ubiquitous that, according to author and historian Stephen Mansfield, “aside from the official insignias they wear, [the SoS dog tag] is the emblem most often carried by members of the military in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Berry and First Liberty sent Read more
Remember Shields of Strength?
In July, this site highlighted the complaint by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein that caused the US military to tell Shields of Strength to stop putting Bible verses on their military-themed faux dog tags.
As noted at the time, contrary to Weinstein’s claims, the military is free to license its trademarks to anyone it wants — so long as it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs when it does so.
And that’s precisely what it did with the license to SoS.
First Liberty has now taken up the cause of Kenny Vaughan and Shields of Strength, sending a letter to the Army telling them what they already know: They’re guilty of viewpoint discrimination — restricting Shields of Strength only on the basis of the content of their beliefs. Said Mike Berry of First Liberty:
“The government grants licenses to people and entities all the time,” Berry said over the telephone. “What the government can’t do is discriminate when it grants those licenses. … It is basically saying ‘we’re happy to grant licenses to anyone, as long as it’s not religious.’ And that’s clearly what the Army is doing here.”
That’s precisely what the military is doing — and they’re clearly wrong to do so.
In July, Weinstein tried to Read more
Yesterday, the Federal District Court in New Hampshire allowed the lawsuit against the VA Medical Center POW/MIA display to proceed, and it also permitted the Northwest POW/MIA Network, which erected the display, to intervene. (The POW/MIA Network is represented by First Liberty.) In one of the more interesting arguments, the presiding judge questioned whether the plaintiff had standing because he’s a Christian. Judge Paul Barbadoro [emphasis added]
acknowledged no shortage of case law and legal precedent regarding religious symbols on public property…
But Barrington resident James Chamberlain, the plaintiff in the challenge, is a Christian who attends a Congregational church, and therein lies the rub, according to the judge.
Barbadoro said he knows of no prior case stemming from a Christian challenging a symbol of Christianity.
“If he were an atheist, he would have standing and that would be clear,” the judge said.
There are certainly legal reasons to require “standing” in a judicial proceeding — but Read more
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein announced that his MRFF — which is currently suing to have a Bible removed from a POW/MIA display at the Manchester VA — had staged a stunt in which a “client” placed a stack of texts on the POW/MIA table of varying faith traditions.
The VA said it would not “tolerate” organizations messing with the displays and would remove the other books, which mirrored their other forceful statement protecting the display.
Importantly, having other faith texts placed on the display is not the “relief sought” in the current lawsuit. The suit seeks only the removal of the Bible.
James L. Chamberlain, the token plaintiff and Read more
As previously noted, both the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation claimed they contacted the VA Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, to demand a Bible be removed from the POW/MIA display in the foyer. The Bible was removed “out of an abundance of caution,” but the backlash — and a subsequent legal review — led the VA to apologize and return the Bible, which was donated by World War II POW and Army Air Corps TSgt Herman “Herk” Streitburger [emphasis added]:
“Manchester VAMC officials temporarily removed the Bible from the display out of an abundance of caution,” VA spokeswoman Kristin Pressly said in a statement provided to USA TODAY. “Following that removal, Manchester VAMC received an outpouring of complaints from Veterans and other stakeholders – many of whom dropped off Bibles at the facility – in protest of this action.”
Pressly said that after consulting with lawyers, the facility determined the Bible will stay and “remain indefinitely as part of the missing man display, a secular tribute to America’s POW/MIA community.”
“We apologize to the Veterans, families and other stakeholders who were offended by our incorrect removal of this Bible,” she said.
Note that this apology came from Kristin Pressly, speaking for the VA, not the Manchester medical facility.
Now, James Chamberlain, described as a “devout Christian” and “Air Force veteran,” has filed a lawsuit (PDF) to force the Manchester VA to remove Read more
First Liberty’s Mike Berry wrote at the Washington Examiner calling on the Pentagon to be “more vigilant in protecting the religious liberty of men and women in uniform.” It’s an appropriate admonition based on two significant recent events.
In the first, Col Leland Bohannon was fired and removed from a promotion list after a retiring homosexual subordinate complained. As Berry notes:
A formal complaint was filed and the Air Force Inspector General ruled that Bohannon had violated Air Force policy. It took none other than the secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, to Read more
Mike Berry, deputy general counsel and director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, writes at the Daily Caller in defense of the ability of members of the Air Force to volunteer with the Salvation Army. Michael “Mikey” Weinstein had previously tried to lodge a complaint about the practice at Grand Forks AFB, ND.
Berry makes the point often made here: To single out a group, organization, or opportunity because of religion is to discriminate on the basis of religion, something the military cannot do [emphasis added]:
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause requires government neutrality towards religion. Neutrality not only means the government cannot favor a particular religion, but the government likewise may not demonstrate hostility against religion either. Read more
Update: From First Liberty’s Mike Berry:
At the end of the day, if anyone has been the victim of discrimination here, it’s been Chaplain Squires and Staff Sergeant Griffin. I’m thankful that a two-star general stepped in and corrected things, but it should never have come to that in the first place.
Fox News’ Todd Starnes reports on the First Liberty press release that the Army has rejected the recommendation to punish Chaplain (Maj) Scott Squires for how he handled a Strong Bonds marriage retreat when a homosexual couple said they wanted to come.
From First Liberty Institute: Read more