Nobody is stopping Mr. Berry’s client’s company from making Bible verse dog tags or stopping Marines from wearing them — they just can’t be officially licensed by the Marine Corps and have the trademarked Marine Corps emblem on them.
Almost six months after the Marine Corps contacted Christian jewelry company Shields of Strength informing them that they could not use the official Marine Corps emblem on their Bible verse dog tags, First Liberty Institute, a fundamentalist Christian legal organization, has sent a letter to the Marine Corps Trademark and Licensing Office decrying this decision as unconstitutional.
Shields of Strength’s violations of military trademark and licensing regulations were reported to the various branches of the military last July by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the Department of the Navy, which the Marine Corps comes under, quickly notified Shields of Strength that it could not use the official USMC emblem on its Bible verse dog tags. At that time, Shields of Strength removed its Navy and Marines products that had the official emblems on them, but continued, and continues, to sell its Air Force and Army Bible verse dog tags with the official emblems of those branches despite receiving a letter from the Army telling them to cease doing so.
The Department of Defense trademark and licensing regulations are clear: you can’t use official military emblems on items that promote religion.
These are the restrictions, according to Department of Defense Instruction 5535.12, “DoD Branding and Trademark Licensing Program Implementation,” Section 2.d. of which states (emphasis added):
“In accordance with subpart 2635.702 of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (Reference (i)), DoD marks may not be licensed for use in a manner that creates a perception of DoD endorsement of any non-federal entity or its products and services. DoD marks may not be licensed for any purpose intended to promote ideological movements, sociopolitical change, religious beliefs (including non-belief), specific interpretations of morality, or legislative/statutory change. ...”
Additionally, the Marine Corps has its own Trademark Licensing Qualification Standards, section 8.e of which states:
“8. Categories of Products Not Licensed by USMC. We do NOT license USMC marks in the following categories:
“e) Products that contain political or religious messaging”
In its press release regarding the Marine Bible verse dog tags, and also in its letter to the Marine Corps, First Liberty Institute boo-hoos about Shields of Strength not being to fill an order for 2,000 of its dog tags for a Marine Corps unit. But nobody is stopping Shields of Strength from making dog tags with Bible verses on them for these Marines — they just can’t have the official trademarked emblem of the USMC on them. So, back to the question that I asked last month in a piece I wrote about the Army’s disallowing of the use of its logos on these dog tags: Do Bible verses lose their meaning if they don’t have government endorsement?
In the words of Benjamin Franklin:
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
If an official military endorsement is necessary for a Bible verse to be meaningful to Shields of Strength, the service members who want their dog tags, and First Liberty Institute, then their religion, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, must be “a bad one.”
Chris Rodda is senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.