The Army & Air Force Exchange Service said it will stop selling Jesus-themed candy in response to a complaint filed by a secular legal organization warning that selling the treats at commissary and exchange stores is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation announced Friday that it received a response to a letter it sent recently to the AAFES objecting to the sale of “Jesus Candy” at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
AAFES is the retailor found on U.S. Army and Air Force installations worldwide.
The package of candy comes in mini stockings that have the words “Jesus Sweetest Name I Know” written on the top. The product is produced by a company called Scripture Candy, which carries the motto: “Reaching the World One Piece at a Time!”
The New Mexico-based MRFF accused the candy package of being “more of a Christian proselytizing kit than a package of candy” and argued that the sale of the product violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The clause prevents the establishment of a state religion.
MRFF demanded that the product be removed from store shelves.
In an op-ed Friday, MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda said MRFF attorneys received a response from the AAFES on Thursday.
AAFES reportedly agreed to stop selling the candies, but did not say it agreed with MRFF's claim that selling the product was a violation of the Constitution. Instead, AAFES said it would stop selling the candies due to “limited historical demand."
“Upon exhaustion of the very small quantity of inventory we have remaining in stock, AAFES will discontinue the stocking and sale of the products from this vendor due to limited historical demand,” the AAFES letter reads, according to MRFF.
Rodda wrote that MRFF assumes that the AAFES’ discontinuation of Scripture Candy products will apply to Scripture Candy’s products for other holidays as well.
An AAFES spokesperson confirmed to The Christian Post that the service "discontinued the sale of Scripture Candy because of low demand."
CP also reached out to the First Liberty Institute, a leading legal nonprofit organization that has experience litigating military religious freedom cases. In an emailed statement, Michael Berry, chief of staff for First Liberty, said, “We commend AAFES for not giving in to the demands of a radical activist. As usual, the MRFF’s claims are meritless. It goes without saying that selling candy canes is perfectly legal in America, no matter how badly the MRFF wishes to the contrary.”
In a previous interview with Fox News, Berry, a Marine Corps combat veteran, defended the candy company, adding, “This is just the latest publicity stunt by a bunch of activists. A real constitutional expert — or any first-year law student — knows that selling candy canes at Christmas is perfectly legal.”
Berry also accused MRFF of having “its own version of the Constitution.”
"Sadly, the MRFF has duped its so-called 'thousands' of alleged clients into believing its dubious legal fairy tales,” Berry argued.
In its complaint to AAFES, MRFF claimed that selling the candy is an illegal promotion of religion and offensive to people of other religions who shop at the exchange’s stores.
MRFF cited an Air Force code requiring leaders to ensure their actions can’t reasonably be construed to be an endorsement or preferential treatment for any religion. MRFF regularly pressures military entities to end any perceived endorsement of religion.
Late last year, the U.S. Army’s licensing office banned a faith-based company called Shields of Strength from engraving Bible verses on Army-licensed dog tags.
The decision came after MRFF sent a letter to all branches of the military objecting to Shields of Strength products. MRFF claimed that Shields of Strength’s products violated a Department of Defense rule stating that “DoD marks may not be licensed” for any purposed intended to promote religious beliefs.
In December, First Liberty Institute’s Berry sent a letter to the director of the Army Trademark Licensing Program arguing that the action was unlawful.
“Your directive that SoS remove all biblical references from its products demonstrates precisely the type of government hostility toward religion that the Establishment Clause forbids,” Berry wrote.
“The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause also protects private entities from impermissible government interference with religious exercise. This includes the prohibition against government censorship of religious expression by a private, for-profit corporation, such as SoS.”