|Image on AFDI Website|
A U.S. federal trademark application for an anti-sharia law campaign known as "STOP ISLAMIZATION OF AMERICA" was filed by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a pro-Israel group founded by controversial bloggers/commentators Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.
The AFDI had been behind a grassroots movement that sought to stop the building of a mosque in lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero World Trade Center site, claiming that the act would offend 9/11 victims' families.
Critics such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have accused the AFDI of being an anti-Muslim hate group, alleging that it promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam" and "seeks to rouse public fear by consistently villifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy 'American' values."
The Trademark Office refused the group's application for a trademark on the basis that it "consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols."
The Trademark Office ruled that it must apply a two factor legal test, asking: (1) What is the likely meaning of the matter in question; and (2) is that meaning referring to identifiable persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, and whether that meaning is disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group.
The Trademark Examiner concluded that, applying this test, the likely meaning of ISLAMIZATION refers to the act of converting to Islam, and that the proposed mark effectively disparages Muslims by implying that conformity to Islam is something that needs to be stopped.
The Trademark Office cited several cases supposedly supporting its conclusion.
However, on further examination, the cases that the Examiner cited were not necessarily relevant or helpful to its case, such as when the Trademark Office found THE MEMPHIS MAFIA for entertainment services not to be matter that disparages Italian-Americans or bring them into contempt or disrepute.
The Trademark Office had further cited the controversial proceedings finding that the WASHINGTON REDSKINS trademark should be cancelled on the same grounds.
The group appealed the Examiner's final refusal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), which affirmed the rejection.
Now, the group has appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears appeals from final Trademark Office refusals to register trademarks.
In the appeal brief, the AFDI's lawyer argues that:
"Appellants [Geller and Spencer] are sympathetic to the USPTO’s politically correct sensitivities enticing it to protect Muslims and indeed Islam itself from even the slightest hint of disparagement in the form of public criticism, especially in the post-9/11 age with global terrorism conducted daily in the name of Islam and the Arab Spring featuring the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamisation program for Egypt and elsewhere melting into murder and mayhem.
The problem with these sensitivities as applied to the denial of Appellants’ Mark is that the USPTO’s beef is not with Appellants or their Mark, but rather with terrorists who claim to speak in the name of all of Islam and all Muslims. Appellants’ Mark does not.
|One of the AFDI's NYC MTA Advertisements|
'Stop the Islamisation of America' has a specific meaning that Muslims and non-Muslims in America and indeed throughout the West embrace if they treasure liberty and religious freedom for all. In a zeal to take on the role of parens patriae and to protect Muslims from every insult, the USPTO and the TTAB have both ignored the factual record and have simply assumed meanings and understandings of the terms of the Mark that have no factual or evidentiary basis. There is no substantial evidence to support the TTAB’s Decision or the USPTO’s denial of the Mark."
The USPTO has yet to file its response.
The AFDI has seen its fair share of federal litigation and previously triumphed. For example, in a federal lawsuit that it filed against the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the group succeeded in forcing the MTA to carry its advertisements on the sides of New York City buses and in the subways.
The MTA had rejected the group's advertisements, purportedly on the basis that they "demeaned" Muslims.