Jews, Muslims, and peoples of other faiths in the United States will have to scramble to find ways to talk about the omnipotent, omnipresent deity referred to as God®, because American Christians have successfully trademarked the term “God®” along with “Savior®” and “Holy Father®.”
“It’s a great day for American Christians of all types,” says Edward Reynolds, head pastor of the Ecumenical Christian Church, U.S.A., based in Foxborough, Mass. “For more than 200 years, peoples of Abrahamic faiths in the United States have peacefully shared among themselves the use of the term “God®” and other important religious words, but today the terms have been provided a permanent home with American Christians, which, as we’ve been arguing for years, is the rightful place for them.”
Under the terms of the 5-4 split decision by the United States Supreme Court, Christians are granted full trademark rights in three terms: “God®,” “Savior®,” and “Holy Father®.” In exchange, Christians are prohibited from seeking trademark rights in several other key religious terms, including “Lord,” “Jahweh,” “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” and other terms commonly associated with the Abrahamic religions.
What’s more, people other than Christians can use the terms “G*d,” “G**,” and other such variants without violating the trademark rights of Christians in the United States.
“This is not the outcome we wanted to see, and we are encouraging the Court to revisit this matter in the near future,” says Rabbi Moshe Ben Yitzkok of the American Jewish Federation. “But we are glad we were able to protect the free and open use of ‘Lord’ and several other important religious terms.”
The Court said Christians are the rightful owner of “God®” because Jews have an uncontested claim on the term “Jahweh” as well as several other terms that fully convey the omnipotence and omnipresence of their deity. At the same time, Christians couldn’t claim trademark rights in the terms “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ” because “Jesus” is a common given name in the United States and terms that include the word “Christ” are too closely associated with “Christmas” and other constructions of the popular holiday to avoid causing confusion in the market.
“Unless you’re going to trademark “Christmas”—which you’re not—you cause confusion among people about who has the right to use “Christ,” says John Peterson, counsel for the Christians. “It’s a complicated legal argument, and although we think there’s some wiggle room there, it’s not a matter that my clients wanted to go to the mat on.”
Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said it’s not enough to say Jews have “Jahweh” and other terms upon which they can draw to justify taking a term they have a deep historical claim to and making it unavailable to them. “That’s not an argument,” he wrote for the minority. “That’s a trade deal.”
Christians have already taken their first enforcement action against the unauthorized use of “God®” when earlier today their team of lawyers sent a letter to Dan Goldstein of New York City, who said in a text message to one of his friends, “God, you stink!” without following the word with the registered mark. “We will vigorously defend our marks,” says Peterson.
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