The Continued LDS Campaign against “Mormons”

Ever since the FLDS raid in 2006, and the media calling the FLDS “fundamentalist Mormons” (a term the Church itself came up with in the 1940s to describe the offshoot), the Church has been eager to monopolize the term “Mormon.” It has asserted that, in the interests of resolving public confusion, the media should only apply the term “Mormon” to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This means that even the phrase “fundamentalist Mormon” is not acceptable because it can lead the public to think that the FLDS are related to the LDS (not just historically, but currently). In fact, President Hinckley went so far as to call the phrase a “contradiction.”

Moreover, the phrase “polygamous sect” is not considered acceptable because it maintains that there was (and therefore is) a link between the two. So, the preferred phrase is “polygamous group” (regardless of the fact that many FLDS are not polygamous), utterly stripping the “group” of its Mormon heritage.

The LDS Newsroom has been on top of the matter:

2006: Use of the Word Mormon in News Reports

2009: Misuse of “Mormon” in The Times Confuses Readers

2011: Journalists Mostly Getting Mormon Usage Right

The argument is that most people these days associate “Mormon” with images of Mormon missionaries on bikes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon temples (all the “good” Mormon things), so we cannot allow the public to associate it with polygamy (which is “bad”). The Newsroom says, “particularly internationally, readers do not distinguish between these groups and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which there are over 13.5 million members worldwide.”

Who cares if these small groups (and last I read, the FLDS are somewhere between 20 to 60 thousand members) actually call themselves “Mormon”? What “right” do they have to confuse the discourse just because they have a shared Mormon heritage?

Well, actually they have a huge right. To try to strip this right away would be akin to telling the Church that just because it wants to say it’s “Christian” doesn’t mean it actually gets to be “Christian.” And last I read, the Church considered this tactic unjust — but apparently not unjust enough to not engage in it itself.

The Church attempted to trademark “Mormon” in 2002, and the application was denied. The back-and-forth letters between the Church and the United States Patent and Trademark Office over the course of 5 years are eccentric, to say the least. They’re available here (the application # is 78161091). Eventually, the Office was scathing in its final letter:

Applicant argues earnestly that the term MORMON is a not a religious service, but the source of religious services. …[But] one expects religions to provide religious services; it is what God or the founders had in mind for them. One expects to find a religious service in a house of religion.

[...] Attached hereto are examples of other registrations including the names of various religions. None of them, nothing on the record shows a mark for Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish or Judaism, Catholic or Catholicism for religious services. They are all for publications or health care or social programs and none merely employ the religions name as a full mark. Often the name of the religion or its adjectival equivalent is disclaimed apart from the mark.

There are plenty of other nuggets in these communications.

Basically, the point is that “Mormon” is generic. It cannot be owned, just as no faith tradition can be owned. In asking for the trademark, the Church was essentially attempting to use the state to help silence other faith traditions that claim a Mormon heritage.

Apostle Quintin Cooks makes the following argument. Instead of silencing others,

we’d much rather be talking about who we are than who we aren’t. [...] People have the right to worship as they choose, and we aren’t interested in attacking someone else’s beliefs. [...] At the same time, we have an obligation to define ourselves rather than be defined by events and incidents that have nothing to do with us. It’s obvious we need to do more to help people understand the enormous differences that exist between our Church which is a global faith and these small polygamous groups.

Yet, many polygamist Mormons continued to regard the LDS Church as authoritative long after the split in hopes that one day the Church would re-establish the practice of polygamy. This is an intra-Mormon conversation, and I don’t see how these folks are any less Mormon than other “excommunicated” or inactive members just because a few generations have passed — particularly if they still self-identify as Mormon.

To argue against their Mormonness would be arguing against the idea of a Mormon culture and history. It’s an argument for the faith being all about official membership today, right now. Is this really the way the Church wants to go? It doesn’t seem like the way a “global” faith ought to behave.

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44 Comments

  1. 1
    Hellmut says:

    This emperor’s new clothes stuff gets on my nerves. Don’t they have anything better to do?

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  2. 2
    True Order of Hair says:

    The church appears to be trying to trademark not just a religion, but a historical movement. But religions and historical movements cannot be trademarked, patented, copyrighted, licensed, franchised, bought, or sold.

    At least the church recognizes that it has an image problem. The sooner its leaders stop behaving like the church is a business enterprise, the sooner people may start believing that it isn’t one.

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  3. 3
    Steve M says:

    As it happens, I recently spent some time reviewing the exchange between Kirton & McConkie and the PTO, as well as relevant case law.

    For what it’s worth, I think both sides miss the boat. I agree with the PTO’s ultimate conclusion that “Mormon” is a generic term and is therefore ineligible for trademark registration. However, throughout the exchange, the PTO treats “Mormon” as a synonym for “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (i.e., it sees “Mormon” as a generic term for the LDS Church). And that doesn’t seem accurate to me. The term “Mormon” certainly encompasses more than the LDS Church; it refers to a much broader religious and cultural movement that consists of dozens (if not hundreds) of different groups.

    Were that not the case, the LDS Church likely would not have gone to the trouble of seeking a legal monopoly on the term “Mormon.” As you point out, the fact that there are other Mormons is probably what motivated the LDS Church to attempt to register the trademark.

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  4. 4
    chanson says:

    Also note: I know I already posted this link twice, but — to keep the info grouped for future reference — Ms. Jack gathered up some examples of other Latter Day Saint traditions that self-identify as “Mormon”.

    And I have one question: I heard that in a recent General Conference one of the GA’s encouraged members to avoid self-identifying as “Mormon” (despite the prominent ad campaign). However, I don’t have a reference to the talk. Does anybody know precisely who it was?

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  5. 5
    Macha says:

    Well, actually they have a huge right. To try to strip this right away would be akin to telling the Church that just because it wants to say its Christian doesnt mean it actually gets to be Christian. And last I read, the Church considered this tactic unjust but apparently not unjust enough to not engage in it itself.

    That is the whole argument, in my opinion. Absolutely NO ONE has the right to define or label anybody else’s identity. The identity one person perceives in another person is not real; it’s an assumption based in the labeler’s personal biases and perceptions, because it is impossible for one person to truly and fully know the mind of any other person. The only legitimate identity is that which is defined internally, in one’s own mind.

    Personal or group identity is a terrifically complex concept, and to strip any other person or group’s right to self-identify is a selfish and harmful act, not to mention nonsensical.

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  6. 6
    Noah says:

    I agree with this article and am not surprised to find McConkie was involved. :-)

    However, I’m not entirely convinced of the Christian/Mormon comparison, which I’ve heard for the third time now, so it seems to be getting some serious traction.

    To identify as a Christian may mean more than to identify with a set of beliefs, even if those beliefs happen to be religious. To say, “I am a Christian” implies membership in a community, not mere adherence to a doctrine, because Christians are supposed to make up the Body of Christ, so to speak. Think of the Eucharist. Such an analogy does not exist in Mormonism or any other religion/philosophy, generally speaking.

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  7. 7
    chanson says:

    Noah — The comparison comes up frequently simply because of the hypocrisy of refusing the FLDS the identity “Mormon” while loudly complaining about other Christians not accepting Mormons as “Christian.” But they are separate questions. One prominent LDS historian I have spoken to said that the two aren’t really comparable because the FLDS (and AUB and other fundamentalist Mormon groups) have a clear claim to the “Mormon” identity, whereas there’s good reason to semantically separate the Restoration movement from “Christianity.”

    Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but allow me to point you to some other interesting opinions on the question.

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  8. 8
    kuri says:

    BKP:

    Obedient to revelation, we call ourselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than the Mormon Church. It is one thing for others to refer to the Church as the Mormon Church or to us as Mormons; it is quite another for us to do so.

    The First Presidency stated:

    The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C 115:4), is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible.

    When referring to Church members, we suggest members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a shortened reference, Latter-day Saints is preferred.

    [Latter-day Saints] talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

    The world will refer to us as they will, but in our speech, always remember that we belong to the Church of Jesus Christ.

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  9. 9
    chanson says:

    Kuri — Thanks for the reference!!

    It’s funny how much the “Rocky Mountain Mormons” sound like the “Great Lakes Mormons”:

    Though members of the church prefer to be greeted as Latter Day Saints, we acknowledge that where the different churches are compared and contrasted in printed works, there needs to be some differentiation. For that purpose the term Great Lakes Mormons, parallel to the term Rocky Mountain Mormons (now used by many professional historians), is most historically specific. Even so, the proposed phrase is only appropriate in cultural histories or sociological studies, not as a title for personally addressing people.

    Strangs presence around the Great Lakes was meaningful. His first headquarters, Voree, Wisconsin, was twenty-six miles from Lake Michigan, in Racine County bordering the lake. His second headquarters, St. James, Michigan, was on the largest island archipelago in Lake Michigan. On 8 July 1850, the church appointed the Islands of the Great Lakes for the gathering of the Saints. Strang also settled islands in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Drummond Island in Lake Huron, and dominated the mainland in several Michigan counties bordering the lake. He honeymooned on serene Lake Superior in a Native American bark canoe. Church members constantly traversed the Great Lakes on missions to Canada and the East, particularly Lake Erie to reach Kirtland, Ohio, and New York State; and return emigration was by water. They had their own schooners on Lake Michigan. Finally, they were dependent on the lakes because salted fish and steamboat timber were their primary exports, and merchandise and dry goods were shipped in as trade from port cities. Truly, they were the Great Lakes Mormons in every sense that there were Rocky Mountain Mormons.

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  10. 10
    kuri says:

    I think the basic logical problem with the idea that other groups can’t be called “Mormon” is, what else is there to call them? If “Mormon fundamentalist,” for example, is an oxymoron, well OK then, what should we call them that’s equally descriptive of what they are? If the mainstream church can come up with a better descriptor than “Mormon fundamentalist,” maybe people will start using it. But AFAIK, they haven’t.

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  11. 11
    Alan says:

    Steve M @ 3

    Were that not the case, the LDS Church likely would not have gone to the trouble of seeking a legal monopoly on the term Mormon. As you point out, the fact that there are other Mormons is probably what motivated the LDS Church to attempt to register the trademark.

    Well, if this is the case, then the letters from Kirton & McConkie are disingenuous. Because in my reading, the PTO got the idea of “Mormon” and “CoJCoL-dS” as being synonymous from K&M (and then were responding to it). The overall PTO argument, though, is that it doesn’t matter whether “Mormon” refers to one branch or a hundred.

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  12. 12
    chanson says:

    Kuri @10 — well, that, and the fact that they actively want to be called “Fundamentalist Mormons” (and have a traditional claim to the designation).

    I have a bit of a philosophical objection to saying that the CoJCoL-dS gets to decide what other groups can/can’t call themselves simply because the CoJCoL-dS is bigger and has more money…..

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  13. 13
    Hellmut says:

    I like what you are saying, Noah, but I am also skeptical since Christ himself never started a Church. He led a movement, not an organization.

    I am not sure that Paul’s organizational efforts did not go beyond Christ’s intent and transformed Jesus’s agenda.

    Of course, you, Noah, are speaking about a community, which need not be an organization nor a movement. If you look at contemporary and historical Christianity, one could have an interesting and hair-splitting argument about whether or not it constituted one community.

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  14. 14
    Hellmut says:

    Chanson hits the nail on the head. The LDS Church shouldn’t have the power to tell other people who they are and aren’t. In a free country, that power needs to reside with the individual.

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  15. 15
    kuri says:

    I mostly agree on the philosophical question. That’s why I took care to specify that I was talking about a logical problem.

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  16. 16
    chanson says:

    Yeah, exactly.

    ETA: I agree that if the CoJCoL-dS were to come up with an alternate term for the fundamentalist Mormons that’s clear and makes sense, then the press would probably use it — regardless of whether that’s fair to the fundamentalist Mormons.

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  17. 17
    Hellmut says:

    I don’t know about you guys but I always thought that being addressed as a Saint was a tad embarrassing. Are there really members who prefer to be called Latter-day Saints?

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  18. 18
    Badger says:

    I haven’t read the correspondence, so maybe it addresses the question I’m about to ask. Or maybe someone with the right law background can answer it.

    Suppose the trademark had been granted, and the LDS church had sued another church for infringement, to prevent it from describing itself as “Mormon”, and the court had ruled in favor of the LDS. Could this possibly survive appeal? Wouldn’t it be an establishment of religion, barred by the first amendment, to have the US government deciding who the “real” Mormons are and allowing only them to use the term to describe themselves?

    If I’m right in thinking this is such an obvious constitutional loser, presumably the LDS legal team didn’t intend to use the trademark to sue other churches out of Mormondom. Did they just want it on general principles, something that might be useful in the future, or did they have a specific purpose in mind? If so, is there any way to know what it was?

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  19. 19
    JJL9 says:

    Blah blah blah…. Since we already beat the horse dead in another thread I’ll post just once. None of you can find a single instance in which a person other than a Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) simply refers to themselves or to another non-Mormon (someone who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) as Mormon. It doesn’t happen. Ever.

    They don’t use that term to describe themselves in normally, every-day life. The only time they make any such claim is in a public setting in which they are explaining how they are affiliated with or otherwise connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or making the argument that they have the right to call themselves Mormons.

    As stated above, I’ll leave it at that. You know you can’t find such an example because none exists. It’s pretty simple. They don’t go around referring to themselves as Mormons.

    Kuri, as to your logical question, then what would you call them? Well, the term fundamental means the original or the primary, so that, without question, is not logical. Perhaps we could call them Wanna-be-Mormons, but then again, they don’t actuall want to be Mormons. They just want to have the right to call themselves Mormons, so that isn’t logical either. The fact of the matter is that growing up in Utah I have never heard them referred to as Mormons. They have always been referred to as FLDS. I think the most logical term for them is, therefore, FLDS. Real Mormons refer to themselves and other Mormons as LDS. Why not call the FLDS by their logical monikor, the one that they have always been called and the one that logically indicates who you are actually referring to?

    Hellmut, you are incorrect that Christ never organized a Church, but I think it’s safe to say that you and I will never agree on that particular topic.

    Badger, you are a little confused about both the concept of a trademark and the Constitution of the United States.

    To answer your questions, in fact, most Churches have federally trademarked their names. I can’t build a church and put up a sign saying “Seventh Day Adventist” or “The Roman Catholic Church”, etc…

    You see, those organizations have developed what one my term “brand equity”, and whether you want to discuss it in the sense of a corporation (even a non-profit) that has value because its members regularly donate money (tithing or whatever else) or purely from the religious sense that the organizations have built up followers who entrust their spiritual wellbeing to the organizations, either way, I cannot use their name. It would be deceptive.

    The term Christian, on the other hand, simply denotes a belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. No one claims the term as referring to their church only, and no one could. From a legal and logical standpoint, it would be absurd.

    As to your reference to the Constitution, the first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Trademarking a name has nothing to do with establishing a religion. Anyone can establish a religion (except of course the federal government, which is prohibited by the Constitution to do so), but that doesn’t give them the right to trade on the good name of another religion.

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  20. 20
    Alan says:

    JJL9 @19:

    The evidence does not point to people wanting dibs on “Mormon” as soon as the Church called for a monopoly on it, but rather that there are people who already were claiming “Mormon” and are mad that the Church has called a monopoly on it. In the end, this isn’t about who actually calls themselves Mormon IRL — many CoJCoL-ds Mormons are against being called “Mormon” — rather it’s about the fact that there’s a shared history among all these groups, a shared Mormon history.

    The Church is not okay with the term “FLDS.” This is the part you don’t seem to understand. It’s not just about “Mormon” or “LDS”: It’s about the Church not wanting any public sense of a relation between the groups. The Church wants the FLDS to be an ahistorical/dead-upon-entry “polygamous group,” pushing for them to not even be able to claim themselves as “fundamentalist Mormon” (which, btw, they do call themselves). So get over this idea of “people calling themselves just plain ol’ Mormon,” because you’re missing the point.

    Also, the Church has trademarked its name: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” But it cannot trademark “Mormon,” in the same way that the Presbyterian Church in America cannot trademark the word “Presbyterian.”

    Badger @18: Perhaps I was too hasty in assuming what exactly the Church’s intentions are in trying to register “Mormon” as a trademark. What is clear in the correspondence is that the applicants are trying to argue that “services” stem from the trademark/product/business. This leads the office to respond:

    The term MORMON is another word for CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS. This is true unless applicant can point out some other Mormons on the globe who are not Christians, or who do not have a shared history with Mr. Smith and the old ways of polygamy. Are there MORMONS who are not culturally tied to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Are there Mormons who have never read the Book of Mormon?

    And the answer to these questions is that, no, there are no Mormons who don’t relate to the Book of Mormon and are not tied to Smith and polygamy, and not tied to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in these ways.

    So, what has happened is that the Church has taken the first sentence of this passage and run with it. “Oh, the two are synonymous.” And it has ignored the rest.

    I think this discourse about making sure “fundamentalist Mormons” don’t get to use “Mormon” or “fundamentalist Mormon” speaks toward the Church’s intentions. Polygamy is an albatross for the Church. I don’t think the Church considers the constitutional church/state ramifications when it thinks about how to silence this albatross.

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  21. 21
    Badger says:

    JJL9, my question wasn’t whether the trademark could issue, but only whether it could be used by one church to prevent another church from adopting a specific name. You answered this (I cant build a church and put up a sign saying Seventh Day Adventist or The Roman Catholic Church, etc). How does this work legally? Let’s say I put up a church and “Seventh Day Adventist” sign as in your example, because I’m deluded and I think God told me I needed to restore the true SDA church. We end up in court. I tell a judge that I was commanded by God to do it, and the greatest commandment in my religion is having that sign up. In further obedience to God, I ask the judge to order the apostate SDA church to stop using the name.

    A court can’t declare either my SDA church or the other one to be the true, divinely authorized version (that would be an establishment). So to order my sign taken down, the judge would need to rely on the original SDA having used the name first, which is the sort of thing trademark law does. But taking the sign down interferes with my free exercise, so before applying trademark law, the court has to perform a strict-scrutiny constitutional analysis of, I guess, the Lanham Act, as applied to my sign. Right? I don’t see how to do that and end up ruling for either party.

    Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean it can’t happen, of course. If anybody can point me to relevant reading material, I’d be interested. I guess the obvious big-name cases I know about are the 19th century polygamy decisions like Reynolds v. United States. But the issues in those cases are quite different, and a lot has changed since then, notably including the introduction of the strict scrutiny standard itself. I’m not sure they would be relevant, and they certainly are not up to date.

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  22. 22
    Badger says:

    Alan @20: Thanks for the additional information. It doesn’t sound like the desire for a trademark was based on getting wind of plans to rebrand Postum as “Mormon Coffee” or anything specific like that (too bad; it might have been a great story). JJL9 didn’t provide, or hasn’t yet provided, enough information to overcome my skepticism about using it to regulate the language used by other churches. I wonder if domain names were part of the reason. There seem to be an increasing number of web pages with “mormon” embedded in the URL.

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  23. 23
    Alan says:

    Badger: I’m no expert on this, but from what I’m gathered, it is impossible to “own” a name for a religious practice. What you can own are social programs, educational materials used in services, and so forth, which the Church does own. The URL question is interesting and makes me curious.

    Now, what a church can do is apply for a “collective membership mark” that basically would say, “This group with this name is defined as this,” but no particular person would have ownership to infringe upon another individual’s right to either be part of that group or not under that name. In other words, there’s no “source”: it more like an agreed upon definition for procedural purposes that can change if evidence is strong enough. If another person says, “I’m a Mormon, too” it wouldn’t be up to the courts to decide who’s telling the truth. A case would be pushed more toward the use of copyrighted materials or whatnot.

    So, two churches can have the same name, and I don’t think there’s really that much recourse. My understanding is that the FLDS, for example, acquired its name in the 1980s due to a legal case and it needing to be differentiated procedurally from the CoJCoL-ds. Prior to this, FLDS were simply LDS who thought of themselves as practicing the “right” way. And my sense is they still think of themselves this way, but have taken on the modifier “fundamentalist” for clarity’s sake.

    Churches turn to trademarks for their identity and legitimacy problems, but it’s really not the place for them to turn because of the church/state division. That’s why I think it’s important to point out these other ethical issues, like not having a right to define people’s identities.

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  24. 24
    chanson says:

    So, two churches can have the same name, and I dont think theres really that much recourse.

    Are you sure about that? I had heard that the “Rocky Mountain Mormons” and the Great Lakes Mormons had to spell their official names ever-so-slightly differently for legal reasons (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” vs “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”).

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  25. 25
    Chino Blanco says:

    Check it out:

    Washington Post Lifestyle piece about Mormons includes a link to r/exmormon mod’s “I am an Ex Mormon” site!!

    I’m also posting the link b/c the article touches on several points under discussion here (but mostly b/c it’s nice to see the mainstream papers getting up-to-speed on some of the issues we’ve been over and over here at MSP but never seem to get discussed openly outside Outer Blogness).

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  26. 26
    chanson says:

    Excellent!

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  27. 27
    Alan says:

    Are you sure about that?

    I’ve done more reading and here’s what I’ve learned:

    The first thing to remember is that trademarks are shortcuts for consumers. So, if it becomes clear that the definition of a trademark is more than what it was before (say, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aren’t just based in Salt Lake, but are also a completely separate group in Atlanta, as understood by enough people), then a trademark as filed by one group is in jeopardy of losing its ability to be protected. It’s not up to the courts to decide who are the “real” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because religions change all the time, and there’s a church/state barrier in which a court can’t resolve doctrinal/identity disputes. IOW, it’s not about who registered the trademark first. It’s about how consumers view it and if there’s confusion that needs to be resolved.

    What ends up happening is that if something becomes popular enough in the public mindset to acquire a definitional meaning, it cannot be trademarked, which is why the word “Mormon” cannot be trademarked. It’s what’s called “generic.” “Mormon” refers to the Church and the other Restorationist branches. You know, that Utah-based faith — which most Americans know of.

    This “genericide” actually happened to Seventh-Day Adventists. At one point they trademarked their name, but their growth actually made it so they couldn’t claim/protect the name later when some random guy had a divine revelation to name his own church similarly.

    The next thing to remember is that there are many common words and word combos that are protected by freedom of language use. For example, I couldn’t trademark the word “Soda.” You couldn’t trademark “The Church of God.” Or well, you might be able to, but it would be unprotectable if another church wanted to use that name.

    I imagine that in the case of the CoJCoL-ds versus CoJCoLDS, what would be at issue is that most consumers wouldn’t recognize the difference, whether there’s a hyphen or not. Courts have indeed ruled in favor of maintaining a church’s name and forcing another to change its name based on consumer understanding (which is always how it’s done, as opposed to who registered the trademark). If a simple hyphen resolved the issue of consumer confusion, I don’t know, but I question that.

    The RLDS (now the Community of Christ) changed its name for its own sake; it wanted to be its own thing apart from the CoJCoL-ds. It followed the example of Joseph Smith’s title for his church: “Church of Christ,” which would be impossible to protect. =p

    Here’s a link (and this is for Badger, too, who was asking) to more than you ever wanted to know about religious communities and trademarks. It’s actually rather fascinating. It talks about how churches turn to the state for identity protection that the state actually can’t provide, but trademarks are felt to be the only option. Well, other than dominating search engines/media, as Chino linked to.

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  28. 28
    JJL9 says:

    Alan, either you didn’t read or simply didn’t understand the article that you referenced about the Seventh-Day Adventists.

    The irony here is that this case IS exactly what Badger proposed above. Badger said:

    “How does this work legally? Lets say I put up a church and Seventh Day Adventist sign as in your example, because Im deluded and I think God told me I needed to restore the true SDA church. We end up in court. I tell a judge that I was commanded by God to do it, and the greatest commandment in my religion is having that sign up. In further obedience to God, I ask the judge to order the apostate SDA church to stop using the name.

    A court cant declare either my SDA church or the other one to be the true, divinely authorized version (that would be an establishment). So to order my sign taken down, the judge would need to rely on the original SDA having used the name first, which is the sort of thing trademark law does. But taking the sign down interferes with my free exercise, so before applying trademark law, the court has to perform a strict-scrutiny constitutional analysis of, I guess, the Lanham Act, as applied to my sign. Right? I dont see how to do that and end up ruling for either party.”

    The article that Alan provided says:

    “The defendant, Walter McGill, was originally baptized in a Seventh Day Adventist church affiliated with the plaintiffs. McGill later separated from the church due to a theological dispute and formed his own church called “A Creation Seventh Day & Adventist Church,” which name he said came from a divine revelation. He apparently was aware that plaintiffs had trademarked “Seventh Day Adventist” but used the name anyway, believing he was divinely mandated to do so.”

    So, to answer Badger’s question, what happened?

    Well, I won’t rehash the whole story because you can all click on the link and read it, but the grand finale was that “The plaintiffs later moved for summary judgment, which the District Court granted with respect to the infringement claim relating to “Seventh-day Adventist”…

    In other words, the Plaintiffs (being the original Seventh-Day Adventists who owned the trademark) won their suit against the guy who woke up one day and put up a sign on his church that included as part of its name “Seventh-Day Adventists”, which he claimed came to him be divine decree.

    If you need me to break down and explain all of the legal nuances discussed in the article that lead to that conclusion, I would be happy to, but suffice it to say that Alan’s interpretation was incorrect, and the claim that the term had been “genericized” was defeated.

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  29. 29
    Alan says:

    suffice it to say that Alans interpretation was incorrect, and the claim that the term had been genericized was defeated.

    I wonder why you didn’t finish the quote? Seventh-Day Adventists had trademarked the word “Adventist.” This word was deemed by the judge at the very beginning of the case to be generic, as it says in the article: “The plaintiffs later moved for summary judgment, which the District Court granted with respect to the infringement claim relating to ‘Seventh-Day Adventist’ but denied as to ‘Adventist’ and ‘SDA.’”

    I suspect the same would be true for CoJCoL-ds. That name is not generic. But “Mormon” is. The Church actually griped in their letters to the PTO: “But Seventh-Day Adventist is trademarked,” and the PTO addressed this issue head-on.

    I admit that what I said @23 about churches having no recourse if their names are the same is not 100% true (it depends on the name, consumer awareness, and probably a number of other issues). But I clarified it @27.

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  30. 30
    Badger says:

    Alan, chanson, and JJL9, thanks for your comments on trademark since my last one @22. Ask and ye shall receive! I haven’t had a chance to read the links you provided or follow up myself in any way, but it looks like you have given me the kind of answer I was hoping for. It’s much appreciated, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the court dealt with the first amendment issues—differently than I thought they would, evidently.

    I guess this puts an end to the reason I gave for thinking that the LDS were not seeking the trademark to restrict the use of “Mormon” by other churches. Of course, they still may not have had that intention, but it apparently can’t be ruled out as a legal impossibility.

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  31. 31
    JJL9 says:

    I didn’t finish the quote because my point was that Church names can and are protected by trade mark. Badger’s questions and the assumptions he verbalized were that they could not be protected, specifically if one were to claim divine revelation regarding the name of the new church being formed.

    I am very aware of the concept of a term being generacized to the point that it is no longer protected. Levi’s, Asprin, and a host of other companies have had to deal with this issue.

    The argument being made generally throughout this thread was that religions couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to stop others from using the same name.

    I find it interesting that you didn’t take the opportunity to admit that you were wrong in your interpretation of that case.

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  32. 32
    Alan says:

    The point of this post is that “Mormon” cannot be trademarked, and there are Mormons other than the CoJCoL-ds. If the Church were to take these other Mormons to court over use of the word “Mormon” — for example, to try to force FLDS to stop calling themselves “fundamentalist Mormons” — the Church would lose. It would also lose in trying to force the FLDS to stop calling themselves the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    If it were to take these other Mormons to court over use of CoJCoL-ds, it would win.

    Seventh-Day Adventists learned that “Adventist” is not protected, even though it was trademarked.

    So my point still stands that Seventh-Day Adventists learned that their church name is not fully protected — despite various trademarks. What I will admit is that I could have been clearer @27 about specifically what was unprotected and what was protected.

    Are you going to admit that CoJCoL-ds Mormons aren’t the only Mormons?

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  33. 33
    JJL9 says:

    My responses were to these posts:

    “But religions and historical movements cannot be trademarked, patented, copyrighted, licensed, franchised, bought, or sold.” The names of religions certainly can be trademarked.

    “Absolutely NO ONE has the right to define or label anybody elses identity.” Maybe not, but they have to right to stop people from using labels that they have trademarked.

    “to strip any other person or groups right to self-identify is a selfish and harmful act, not to mention nonsensical.” Start a church, build up a following, and then see if you still feel that way when I start a church and use the exact same name and start confusing your members or I fill my church with pedofiles and the next thing you know everyone thinks your church is full of pedofiles.

    “The LDS Church shouldnt have the power to tell other people who they are and arent. In a free country, that power needs to reside with the individual.” Right, so if I want to sell jeans I made in my basement and refer to myself as a salesman for Levi’s, then no one has the right to tell me who I am and who I’m not!

    At any rate, Alan, you have shown your true colors. You are unwilling to admit that you misinterpreted that case. You said, “At one point they trademarked their name, but their growth actually made it so they couldnt claim/protect the name later when some random guy had a divine revelation to name his own church similarly.” You were obviously wrong and now you twist your words around a pretend like you knew that all along, but you should have been “clearer”.

    My original point still stands. No one but members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints normally refer to themselves and each other and are normally referred to by others as Mormons.

    That’s really my point. The point is that it does, in fact, confuse people who aren’t familiar with Mormonism to have other people referred to as Mormons. They aren’t Mormons and they don’t have anything to do with the Mormon Church. That is the point of trademark protection. I understand why the PTO responded the way they did, but that doesn’t mean they were right or that I have to agree with them.

    And if all of you would take an honest look at the issue you would admit that there is nothing so sinister or evil about the Church’s attempt to manage its reputation and to attempt to keep the unsuspecting public from being confused about who is Mormon and who is not.

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  34. 34
    Alan says:

    -_-

    When I read that case, I was looking to see if the trademarks held. And two of three were dismissed readily.

    Yes, the one that refers to the whole name of the Church (Seventh-Day Adventist) held… but it is easy to imagine a whole church name that would not hold — for example, “The Church of God.”

    There was probably a point in which “Adventist” would have held, and that is why I said what I did @ 27.

    So, yes, I could have been clearer. I’m not an expert (is anyone here an expert on these matters?), and there should be room here for me to make myself clearer.

    I’m not even gonna argue with you about the fact that there are other Mormons other than CoJCoL-ds Mormons. You just don’t seem to get why the Church’s fighting for there to be only one kind of Mormon is indeed sinister.

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  35. 35
    chanson says:

    You just dont seem to get why the Churchs fighting for there to be only one kind of Mormon is indeed sinister.

    Right, but the respective arguments on both sides of this debate were clear to everyone else a good ten or twenty comments ago. It is not possible to clarify to the point where JJL9 will acknowledge the point you’re actually making, so further “clarification” will probably just be buried in the grand wall o’ text that other readers will simply scroll past.

    On a completely different note, I found your comment here quite interesting:

    some people think Native Americans are being reactionary when they make claims about their sacred culture being put in museums for white people. The sacredness is assumed already dead, which is why its in a museum when it fact, its not dead at all, which is why the claim is being made.

    It is a very interesting example of the ways outsiders can define other people’s cultures. It immediately reminded me of this cartoon (a page from a story written by Silvia Ziche, an Italian woman, about her visit to San Francisco):


    Oakland Museum. There are dioramas reconstructing the sad story of the Native Americans, as though they were talking about the disappearance of the dinosaurs. …But they didn’t disappear in quite the same way.

    Here you see a random tourist gets the picture that the Native American cutures are dead, and now their history is being written by the culture that finished them off.

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  36. 36
    MoHoHawaii says:

    Too bad about “Mormon” being out of bounds for trademarking. Maybe “Brighamite” is available. : -)

    Oops, the FLDS are in that branch, too. Back to the drawing board.

    [BTW, interesting post and comments.]

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  37. 37
    chanson says:

    BTW, my point @35 ties in with Kuri’s point (see comments @10, @15, & @16):

    A larger culture can get away with defining the public perception of a smaller culture, even if it’s not fair, philosophically, that they can. The main reason the CoJCoL-dS fails to get the press to stop calling fundamentalist Mormons “fundamentalist Mormons” is not so much because it’s not fair to the fundamentalist Mormons — rather it’s because their request is logistically unworkable.

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  38. 38
    Hellmut says:

    JJL9, a careful reading of the gospels and Acts reveals clearly, there was only a Christian movement before the crucifixion.

    There were neither apostles nor any other officers during Christ’s life time. There were only disciples, people who had heard Christ teach and agreed with him. The most that one can say is that Christ formed a traveling commune with a small number of his followers but that does not make an organization any more than a hippie commune in 1973.

    While Christ was alive, the disciples were not an organization in any sense. It was a movement that was organizationally formalized only after Christ’s death, mostly by the apostle Paul who had never met Christ himself.

    That’s by the way the consensus of biblical scholars and early church historians around the world. Mormons like to take it beyond the reasonable reading of the evidence to justify their organization but need and desire are no substitute for reasoning.

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  39. 39
    JJL9 says:

    LOL

    A careful reading of the gospels and Acts reveals clearly, there was only a Christian movement before the crucifixion?

    That’s the consensus of biblical scholars and early church historians around the world?

    Funny how you guys are sooooooooooooooo sure that Mormons aren’t tolerant of others’ beliefs, and you wish Mormons would just let others believe what they want, but when you disagree with what the Mormons believe, you are certain they are just wrong.

    HYPOCRITE

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  40. 40
    Kat says:

    WHAT? I just got used to the idea that we were calling ourselves “LDS” or “Latter-day Saints” because “Mormon” is a nickname and not the actual name of the church–seriously, wasn’t there a whole thing about that about ten years ago (when I last was active)?–and now we’re back to using “Mormons” again? Guess I’ll check back in ten more years and see what the word is then.

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  41. 41
    chanson says:

    Kat — Don’t worry, just check the Boyd K. Packer quote from a recent General Conference (which kuri cited @8). Regardless of what you see in the media (including ads produced by the CoJCoL-dS), you’re still supposed to call yourself and other members LDS or Latter-day Saints, not Mormon.

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  42. 42

    [...] stereotypes, like thinking they’re all polygamous — although I’d say some Mormons are polygamous), then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a Mormon to believe something until the candidate [...]

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  43. 43

    [...] written on why stripping a Mormon identity from the FLDS is wrong. There are Catholics who engage in voodoo, but you don’t see the Catholic Church going to [...]

       0 likes

  44. 44

    [...] language. **See the Wikipedia article on the Church trying to trademark “Mormon” and this article in Main Street Plaza. ***And is now the star of a Verizon commercial I saw last week while watching football!!!!!! Share [...]

       0 likes

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