NAACP tries to silence critical reporting of its actions
Attorney sound bite: Casey Mattox
RICHMOND, Va. – The Radiance Foundation filed its opening brief Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in a lawsuit against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In April, a federal district court ruled that The Radiance Foundation engaged in trademark infringement after doing nothing more than posting an article online that parodied the NAACP’s name.
"No trademark law overrides the First Amendment freedom to comment upon the positions, policies and activities of groups like the NAACP. This type of speech has a very long history of protection,” said Charles M. Allen with the law firm Goodman, Allen, & Filetti and one of nearly 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The Radiance Foundation merely expressed its opinion of the NAACP’s activities in an article. The NAACP cannot use trademark law to shield itself from criticism by denying others the right to use its name when they are expressing their opinions.”
“Abortion doesn’t advance people of color,” said Radiance Foundation Co-Founder Ryan Bomberger, an African-American citizen journalist and pro-life leader. “The NAACP is on the wrong side of this human rights issue, and they are wrong to try to silence our free speech, too.”
In January 2013, Radiance, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about social issues from a Christian perspective, posted an article on two of its websites critical of the NAACP’s position on abortion and its support of Planned Parenthood. After the article, “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People,” was posted, the NAACP received complaints about its position on abortion and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Radiance, threatening trademark infringement litigation if Radiance refused to comply with the NAACP’s demands.
Radiance sought the assistance of ADF and filed a declaratory judgment action in federal court. The NAACP then filed counter-claims for trademark infringement and dilution against The Radiance Foundation.
“Although other commentators had criticized the NAACP for its position on abortion, only the criticism leveled by Radiance caused people to complain to the NAACP about its position. However, no one expressed confusion about who the NAACP was, what its real name was, or who the articles were criticizing,” the brief filed in The Radiance Foundation v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People explains.
“Radiance’s use of the NAACP’s marks was not used to identify the source of their alleged goods and services or, in fact, to identify any goods and services,” the brief continues. “As such, there is an insufficient nexus between Radiance’s goods and services and its use of the NAACP’s marks to find trademark infringement.”
“Many organizations, including the NAACP itself, regularly engage in social commentary and should not be penalized or discriminated against for expressing their beliefs. The NAACP should respect that same right for Radiance,” added ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The First Amendment protects the freedom of all organizations, regardless of their political or religious views, to comment on the views of others. We hope the 4th Circuit will reverse the district court’s flawed decision.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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