Each branch of the military has a trademark and licensing office through which businesses and other groups can obtain a license to use the official trademarked military emblems and logos on products they produce. There are, however, some restrictions on the use of these official trademarked emblems and logos, one of which is that they cannot be used 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. ...”
Shields of Strength is a Christian jewelry company, one of whose products are dog tags with Bible verses on them.
In a clear violation of the above DoD trademark licensing regulation, which prohibits the use of official trademarked military emblems on items that promote religion, Shields of Strength’s Bible verse dog tags have these official trademarked military emblems on them.
When the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was made aware of this back in July, we sent letters to the trademark and licensing offices of each branch of the military reporting this violation. Both the Navy (which includes the Marines) and the Army responded, telling Shields of Strength that it could not use the official military emblems on their Bible verse products. (The Air Force has not responded.) At that time, Shields of Strength removed its Navy and Marines Bible verse dog tags from its website, but the Army ones remained up for sale despite the letter Shields of Strength received from the Army’s trademark and licensing office.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. On December 3, First Liberty Institute, a right-wing fundamentalist Christian legal organization, sent a letter to the Army’s trademark and licensing office on behalf of Shields of Strength, claiming that the Army’s disallowing of the use of its emblems on Bible verse merchandise is unconstitutional. (For some unknown reason, First Liberty did not send a similar letter to the Navy, but only seems concerned with the Army.)
First Liberty’s letter and the “plight” of Shields of Strength were reported on by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, but with the story spun to give the impression that the Army and MRFF were trying to prohibit service members from wearing Bible verses. Outrage and plenty of hate mail to MRFF ensued, and the story went viral, catching the attention of well over a dozen fundamentalist Christian members of Congress, who wrote letters to the Department of Defense, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who posted on his Facebook page that the Army should immediately reverse its decision.
Bottom line: Shields of Strength is perfectly free to produce dog tags with Bible verses of them and service members are perfectly free to wear them; they just can’t have the official trademarked military emblems on them.
So, getting back to the question in the title of this post: 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 the official military endorsement is necessary for a Bible verse to be meaningful to Shields of Strength, the service members who wear their dog tags, and First Liberty Institute, then their religion, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, must be “a bad one.”