WASHINGTON – The official US motto is "In God We Trust," but a Texas company is under fire for printing scripture on military dog tags.
Kenny Vaughan's company, Shields of Strength, has been making the dog tags for about 20 years. He says they've been a blessing to countless military men and women.
"Soldiers and Marines love having God's word around their necks it encourages them and strengthens them for their fight," Vaughan said.
Emotion overtakes Kenny Vaughan when he talks about his company and its mission.
"I made a dog tag with a scripture on it because my girlfriend had written them on my equipment as an athlete and it changed my life forever and I wore it under my own shirt for my own reminder and I gave it to a soldier and it encouraged him in battle and that's why we're in business," Vaughan said.
Vaughan has made hundreds of thousands of these dog tags for US military men and women, many of them, he says, for free. Air Force and Marine veteran Kenneth Davis explains what the dog tags mean to him.
"This is believing that you're going to live," Davis said. "And even if you die, you're going to be holding hands with God for eternity. That's what it means to me and every veteran I know, it means the same."
Now, after an organization called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained to the Pentagon, the Army and Marines want Shields of Faith to stop making the dog tags this way.
"We are not anti-faith, we are pro-Constitution," said Mikey Weinstein who leads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
He calls the dog tags a violation of defense department regulations and the constitution by combining scripture with official military emblems, even though Vaughan had licensing permission from three of the five branches of service to use their emblems.
"The letter of the law states that you cannot do this because that would be in this case breaching the separation of church and state and applying, in this case, an endorsement by the Department of Defense and military branches on a clearly proselytizing message," Weinstein said.
He says the dog tags would be fine if the official military emblems are removed.
After reviewing Weinstein's complaint, the Marines and the Army sent Vaughan cease and desist letters. One of them saying in part, it could not "...tolerate merchandise that had a) Marine Corps trademarks and b) a religious theme. This is in direct violation of the Department of Defense Instruction..."
"Further, please refrain from submitting items for approval that are clearly of a religious nature and which bear USMC trademarks," the letter went on to say.
"This is an outrage," said Attorney Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute.
Berry represents Shields of Strength and says separation of church and state is not found in the constitution, plus Mikey Weinstein has an agenda.
"His agenda is to eradicate any form of religious expression from our military," Berry said.
"A positive uplifting bible verse such as Joshua 1:9, I will not be afraid, I will be strong and courageous."
"How could someone find a way to be offended by a Marine wearing that underneath is uniform for himself when it's totally voluntary," Vaughan said.
"Approximately 70 percent of the people who join our military identify as being of the Judeo Christian faith, and that drives Mikey Weinstein crazy and he wants to try to put a stop to it," Berry said.
"Fortunately for him and unfortunately for America, he's found some people in the Pentagon who are scared of their shadow and are willing to cave in to his demands," Berry said.
"What we're saying is that you cannot violate the law," Weinstein said.
"You can imagine if there was a satanic for-profit organization or an atheist one or an Islamic one that wanted to do the same thing there'd be blood in the streets. Please understand that this is not the United States of Jesus, it's the United States of America. Christianity deserves no special place of honor above any other faith or non-faith. That is what makes us great."
"Mr. Weinstein is flat out wrong," Berry said.
First Liberty has asked the Defense Department to rescind the cease and desist letters. If they don't, Berry says a lawsuit could be an option. Kenny Vaughan says he's fighting to carry forth his God-given mission.
"That's why we do what we do, and I'll do anything I can to keep doing it," Vaughan said.
So far, the Defense Department has not responded to CBN's request for comment.