Religious Liberty and the Trademark Law
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States declares:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If I understand this clause correctly, the Constitution of the United States of America does not support a church’s use of federal law either to establish itself or to deny others the free exercise of religion, and the framers never intended for a religious denomination to pursue and prosecute, under U.S law, members that denomination considers being heretic. The overall purpose of this amendment was to establish morality in regards to matters of religion in a secular society, and to keep civil authority from meddling with the minds and consciences of men regarding their duty and loyalty to God as they believed. Sadly, this amendment has been abrogated through crafty and persistent manipulation.
In 1981, the Seventh-day Adventist Church General Conference Corporation acting for the church and as head of the church obtained a trademark registration for the name “Seventh-day Adventist” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, becoming the very first Protestant church denomination in America to appeal to the state for protection of her name. Previous to this action, certain former pastors and members that had seen what they deemed apostasy from her original doctrine had separated from the church and formed other groups bearing the same name, while not tithing to, or supporting the General Conference (GC). Some of these new groups began to speak out against this apostasy and teach a message that reflected more closely the beliefs of the church’s founders. Fearing that the “good name” would be misrepresented and tarnished by these “off shoot” movements, and jealous for the money that went to support their work, the GC obtained legal rights to the name, and began to plan legal prosecution. Beginning with the church’s first prosecution in 1986 with the case of former conference Pastor John Marik and the Kona, Hawaii Seventh-day Adventist Congregational Church, the GC proceeded to seek out and take to court other “rogue” bodies, and still continues her conquest today (Chandler, “Tiny Church”).
The GC’s latest attention is focused upon the Creation Seventh-day Adventist church located at Guys, TN. “A small church in Guys has defied a federal court order to stop using the Seventh Day Adventist name and has repainted the sign on their church this week. Lucan Chartier, acting pastor of the church, said the members of Creation Seventh Day Adventists would be willing to go to jail for their beliefs. ‘We believe God gave us the name to use,’ said Chartier. ‘We do not want to be arrested, but we would do that for our convictions.’ A federal judge ordered removal of the name from the Guys church because of a violation of the trademark of the Seventh Day Adventist church. The church sign was painted over on Feb. 15. The church in Guys did try for a short time using the name A Creation Seventh Day & Adventist Church to avoid problems with the international Seventh Day Adventist church… ‘We tried to satisfy them with a different name and that did not work.’ Chartier said. ‘When the change did not satisfy them, we went back to using our original name’” (York, “Church Defies”).
The founder of the Creation SDA (CSDA) church, Walter O. “Chick” McGill III has been dancing on the nerves of the GC since he published his first paper, “Crucified Afresh”, in 1991, condemning them over the trademark issue; by 1994, he was moving onto the worldwide web in order to facilitate getting his message out; by ’96, he had begun establishing internet domains under the name Seventh-day Adventist. McGill was quicker to understand the effectiveness of the internet to spread his message than the GC was to spread theirs, and when the Corporation got wind of this, they moved to confiscate the sites from him. “On May 23, 2006, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center received notice from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists regarding several domain names operated by the church. The defendant (McGill) claimed that such a confiscation of web domains would be a violation of religious freedom.
“In the decision rendered on July 21, 2006, WIPO concluded that although ‘Respondent alleges that he is involved in the free dissemination of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not in commercial activity [...]’ and disclaimers were posted on the domains in question, ‘persons interested in finding religious information are Internet users and consumers within the meaning of the Policy.’ They further concluded several of the church's domain names to be infringing on the trademark held by the General Conference, and based on these conclusions, WIPO ordered ‘that the Domain Names be transferred to Complainant’” (Wikipedia).
In 2004, McGill began to establish a church mission in Rwanda, Africa, and is now over there to avoid prosecution. Allegedly, if he returns to the U.S., he will be arrested and transported to jail. “The intention of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is to confine me in prison until I agree to abide by the Permanent Injunction ordered against me. At the same time, they seek a monetary sanction of over $35,000, which amounts to a stiff fine as punishment for my contempt of court” (McGill, “My Incarceration”). In late May, 2010, Lucan Chartier posted on his Facebook wall that he was being summoned to court for a contempt of court hearing having to do with repainting the church signs and for not showing up for a deposition to “help shut down the church.” Since Chartier had been fairly active on Facebook, it is possible that he could be incarcerated at this time, as there have been no other posts on his wall since late May.
It is evident that nothing good has come of these litigations. Since the GC first exercised her right, other denominations have followed suit in similar cases. Many members within her walls are increasingly curious about the rumors they hear, which is causing agitation and unease. Instead of causing unity, there has been much division in her ranks. She has become totally invested in securing to herself a worldly kingdom, much to the dismay of those members who recognize that the church was founded on the principle that God’s kingdom is “not of this world.” John 18:36. While the GC has commandeered federal authority to promote its own agenda and has, thereby, abrogated the first amendment of the Constitution, it remains legal under the Trademark anti-dilution law for the Corporation to prove the distinctiveness of its name so that it cannot be used by any other organization in a situation where there would be a “likelihood of confusion”, thereby protecting the mark from the use or adoption of marks used for completely unrelated goods or services. Although the GC commits no illegal criminal act by taking advantage of this provision, there are much weightier matters to be considered.
As a religious entity first, the Seventh-day Adventist Corporation’s primary concern should be proper moral behavior toward God and her fellow men, yet she moves swiftly away from moral accountability, proceeding as if she answered primarily to the secular courts of this land. She ignores both the counsel and instruction of both the Bible that she claims to uphold, and that of the pioneers of the church. Let us take a look at what these have to say.
Since the church claims that the Bible is her standard, then it follows good reason that her actions should be examined according to those instructions laid out therein. In 1Corinthians 6:1, Paul asks a serious question to the church saying, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” He follows this question in verse 7 by stating that, “There is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law with one another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded” ( Apostle)? The GC’s behavior does not follow this counsel. Instead, they are building and protecting a worldly empire and cannot stand to trust in God for their protection, but seek the temporal arm of civil law to keep from being defrauded. This is hardly a reflection of the sentiments put forth in the first amendment by those whose motto was “In God We Trust.” One wonders how such plain counsel could be ignored.
If there is any doubt as to the clarity of scripture regarding these things concerning the church, let’s take a look at what various Adventist pioneers had to say about the union of church and state. Ellen G. White, a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist church and the author to whom this church ascribes for much direction states: “The union of the church with the state, be the degree never so slight, while it may appear to bring the world nearer to the church, does in reality but bring the church nearer to the world” (White, 297). “When the early church became corrupted by departing from the simplicity of the gospel, and accepting heathen rites and customs, she lost the Spirit and power of God; and in order to control the consciences of the people she sought the support of the secular power. The result was the papacy, a church that controlled the power of the State, and employed it to further her own ends, especially for the punishment of ‘heresy.’ In order for the United States to form an image of the beast, the religious power must so control the civil government that the authority of the State will also be employed by the church to accomplish her own ends.
“Whenever the church has obtained secular power, she has employed it to punish dissent from her doctrines. Protestant churches that have followed in the steps of Rome by forming alliance with worldly powers have manifested a similar desire to restrict liberty of conscience” (White, 443).
“Let the principle once be established in the United States that the church may employ or control the power of the state; that religious observances may be enforced by secular laws; in short, that the authority of church and state is to dominate the conscience, and the triumph of Rome in this country is assured” (White, 581).
Another writes: “I need not take to give a definition in detail of what the image of the beast is; we all know well that it is the church power using the government, the civil power, for church purposes. … Now I want to state a little further upon the principle that no Christian, being a citizen of the kingdom of God, can of right start any procedure in connection with the civil government. After it is started by the government itself, that is another question… I repeat therefore, that upon the principles which govern kingdoms and governments, the very principle of the law in heaven, or law in earth, a Christian cannot start any procedure in connection with civil government. And of all Christians, Seventh-day Adventists cannot do it. The very keeping of the Sabbath forbids it” (Jones, 28).
One more Adventist witness writes: “The true church is a chaste virgin. (2 Cor. 11:2). The church that is joined with the world in friendship is a harlot. It is this unlawful connection with the kings of the earth that constitutes her the great harlot of the Apocalypse. (Rev.17). Thus, the Jewish Church, at first espoused to the Lord (Jer. 2:3; 31:32), became a harlot (Eze.16)… The unlawful union with the world of which Babylon is guilty, is positive that it (Babylon) is the civil power… For these reasons, it is very evident that the Babylon of the Apocalypse is the professed church united with the world” (Smith, 648).
It is plain to see that according to the Seventh-day Adventist pioneer’s beliefs, the church for which they labored so earnestly in the 1800s has today committed adultery against her Maker by joining hands with civil power to enforce her decrees and protect her name. The church pioneers and national forefathers always warned against this union of church and state, but now they are gone, and a new era has been ushered in; one of force and tyranny. This nation was established upon principles that protected freedom of conscience. The forefathers fought to escape the tyranny and religious oppression that they once endured from their motherland. God set up this country to be a haven from religious persecution, but times are changing, and we are on the cusp of a greater persecution of those who would follow their consciences in opposition of the General Conference Corporation’s dictates.
“When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that it’s professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I say, of its being a bad one.” – Benjamin Franklin to Richard Price, 9 Oct. 1780 Writings 8:153--54
[(York)(Wikipedia)(McGill)(Apostle)(White)(Jones)(Smith) Works Cited: Apostle, Paul the King James Study Bible/1 Corinthians 6:1,7. Loma Linda, CA: Pacificrim Press, 1997.; Chandler, Russell. Tiny Church in Hawaii Battles Adventists Over Trademark Use. Newspaper Article. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, 1988.; Jones, A.T. "General Conference Bulletin." (1895): 28. McGill, "Chick". "My Incarceration." 5 12 2009. 14 11 2010 http://www.whypastorwaltermcgillisnotaffiliatedwithgcsdaadventistchurch.net/PDF/MyIncarceration.pdf/ Smith, Uriah. Daniel and the Revelation. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972. White, Ellen G. The Great Controversy. Nampa,Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2005.Wikipedia. Wikipedia/Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church 14 2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_Seventh_Day_Adventist_Church#WIPO_ruling_on_disputed_domain_names/ York, Jeff. Church defies court order. Local news. Corinth, Mississippi: Daily Corinthian, March 13, 2010.]