Rethink Your Position, Please

Subject:  Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained this year that the tags had “poison[ed] the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State.”

I have serious concerns about your organization Military Religious Freedom Foundation MRFF and it’s position regarding Shields of Strength SoS. This is a company that produces religious items that bear U.S Military Armed Forces insignia or emblems that were granted or licensed by these same armed services.

I read an article today entitled” Marines’ Tag of War over Faith” in the Family Research Council website.  The article states” MRFF complained this year that the tags had “poison[ed] the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State.”  I am a retired soldier and believe that God and religion can be a strong source of inspiration and comfort, especially on the battlefield. Some people carry religious artifacts with them.  Why would your organization be against a private company selling religious artifacts to military person or their families, or anyone for that matter?  I think many often misuse the Supreme Court’s constitutionally mandated “Separation of State” clause.  Oh, by the way Thomas Jefferson allowed the capital building to be used as a church and he attended services there.  Additionally, he did not like the music at the church service and had the U.S Marine Corp Band play music at the services (I suppose they played religious hymns).  I wonder if Thomas Jefferson was violating the “premise of “Separation of Church and State”.  As I am sure you know he was instrumental in creating the U.S Constitution.   Each working day in the morning a chaplain in both the U.S Senate and the House of Representatives begins each session with a prayer, is your organization Military Religious Freedom Foundation opposed to this too?

Perhaps your organization should reconsider its position on this matter and cause no more opposition to Shields of Strength or any other company involved in this type of work.We need Freedom in America and people who purchase these products do so using their own free will.  Military Religious Freedom Foundation should live up to its name, right now, it is not.


(name withheld)

Response from MRFF’s Senior Research Director Chris Rodda

Hi  (name withheld),

I’m Chris Rodda, MRFF’s research director.

Regarding your comments about the Shields of Strength dog tags, your opinion was obviously formed from reading only the deceptive version of the story put out by the Family Research Council. Like First Liberty Institute and the right-wing news outlets that have deceptively reported on this story, the FRC evades the real issue, which is that Department of Defense trademark and licensing regulations strictly prohibit using official trademarked military emblems on religious items.  Nobody is stopping Shields of Strength from making Bible verse dog tags, and service members are perfectly free to wear them — they just can’t be officially licensed by the DoD and have the official trademarked military emblems on them.

Please read my op-ed on Military Times for the real story, and for the Department of Defense regulations:

As for your version of history about Thomas Jefferson and the church services at the Capitol, here’s the real history …

Jefferson had nothing to do with “allowing” church services in the Capitol. These were started before Jefferson became president. When the government moved to Washington, a new city that had hardly any buildings. The only churches were a tobacco shed being used by the Episcopalians, and a small Catholic chapel built in 1794 for the Irish stone masons who had moved to the city to work on the federal buildings. So the chaplains to Congress asked the House if church services could be held in their chamber, which was agreed to. Jefferson at the time was vice president, and as such was president of the Senate, so he had absolutely nothing to do with what the House decided about using the House chamber for church services.

Jefferson did attend these services as president, but as you’ll see from the firsthand descriptions below of what these service were actually like, they were far from being serious religious services. They were the social event of the week in a city where there was virtually no social life. These so-called religious services, which had very entertaining preachers speak and turned into more of a party that a religious service, were actually complained about by the serious religious people, who didn’t attend them (except to criticize them) and held much smaller and serious services in other buildings.

Jefferson also had nothing to do with the Marine band playing at these services. They did this on their own, and it ended up being a joke. The source of the lie that Jefferson ordered the Marine band to play at these services is the description of these services by Margaret Bayard Smith, the wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, a Philadelphia newspaper editor who moved to Washington in 1800 to establish a national newspaper. Christian nationalist history revisionists selectively quote Mrs. Smith’s account to come up with the lies about Jefferson and these Capitol services.

This is Mrs. Smith’s description of these services, in which she describes how un-solemn they were, and describes the Marine band’s playing at them as “too ridiculous”:

“…I have called these Sunday assemblies in the capitol, a congregation, but the almost exclusive appropriation of that word to religious assemblies, prevents its being a descriptive term as applied in the present case, since the gay company who thronged the H. R. looked very little like a religious assembly. The occasion presented for display was not only a novel, but a favourable one for the youth, beauty and fashion of the city, Georgetown and environs. The members of Congress, gladly gave up their seats for such fair auditors, and either lounged in the lobbies, or round the fire places, or stood beside the ladies of their acquaintance. This sabbathday-resort became so fashionable, that the floor of the house offered insufficient space, the platform behind the Speaker’s chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in was crowded with ladies in their gayest costume and their attendant beaux and who led them to their seats with the same gallantry as is exhibited in a ball room. Smiles, nods, whispers, nay sometimes tittering marked their recognition of each other, and beguiled the tedium of the service. Often, when cold, a lady would leave her seat and led by her attending beau would make her way through the crowd to one of the fire-places where she could laugh and talk at her ease. One of the officers of the house, followed by his attendant with a great bag over his shoulder, precisely at 12 o’clock, would make his way through the hall to the depository of letters to put them in the mail-bag, which sometimes had a most ludicrous effect, and always diverted attention from the preacher. The musick was as little in union with devotional feelings, as the place. The marine-band, were the performers. Their scarlet uniform, their various instruments, made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery. The marches they played were good and inspiring, but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued, — it was too ridiculous.”

Like Mrs. Smith’s account, that of British diplomat Sir Augustus Foster, paints a very different picture of early Washington and the Capitol church services than the Christian nationalist history revisionists. After a brief description of the shocking behavior of the ladies from Virginia in Washington, Foster continued with the following:

“In going to assemblies one had sometimes to drive three or four miles within the city bounds, and very often at the great risk of an overthrow, or of being what is termed ‘stalled,’ or stuck in the mud. …. Cards were a great resource during the evening, and gaming was all the fashion, at brag especially, for the men who frequented society were chiefly from Virginia or the Western States, and were very fond of this the worst gambling of all games, as being one of countenance as well as of cards. Loo was the innocent diversion of the ladies, who when they looed pronounced the word in a very mincing manner….”

“Church service can certainly never be called an amusement; but from the variety of persons who are allowed to preach in the House of Representatives, there was doubtless some alloy of curiosity in the motives which led one to go there. Though the regular Chaplain was a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a minister of the Church of England, or a Quaker, or sometimes even a woman took the speaker’s chair; and I don’t think that there was much devotion among the majority. The New Englanders, generally speaking, are very religious; though there are many exceptions, I cannot say so much for the Marylanders, and still less for the Virginians.”

In addition to being MRFF’s research director, I have written several books on the Christian nationalist myths and lies about American history, among them Liars For Jesus: the Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History, volumes 1 & 2. You can even read volume 1 for free. Here’s the link:

Chris Rodda
Senior Research Director
Military Religious Freedom Foundation











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