Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Controversy Over Army Licensed Items With Religious Theme

First Liberty Institute yesterday sent a letter (full text) to the U.S. Army complaining about the Army's order to a private faith-based company that is licensed to produce Army-themed products. (Press release). The Army instructed the company to remove Biblical verses from its popular Shields of Strength (SoS) dog tags. Since 9-11, SoS has produced over 4 million dog tags, the most popular carrying the words of Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

The Army's action follows a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about the religious content of the Army-licensed products.  First Liberty argues, however:
once the Army creates a limited public forum via a trademark licensing regime and allows private entities such as SoS to obtain licenses, the Army cannot “discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint” in the administration of the trademark licensing regime. The Army is therefore prohibited from discriminating against SoS because of its inclusion of biblical references on its products, in its advertisements, or on its website.....
More recently, in Iancu v. Brunetti the Supreme Court ...  invalidated the Lanham Act’s “immoral or scandalous” clause as viewpoint discrimination.....
Clearly, if a prohibition against trademarking offensive, immoral, or scandalous speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination, then certainly the Army’s prohibition against using religious speech in conjunction with its trademark does, too. This is especially true because the Army routinely grants licenses to similar, non-religious speech.