Press Release

Becket to Government: Practice what you preach Government supports free speech abroad; penalizes “disparaging” speech at home

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Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – What do a Jewish-owned clothing line called “Heeb,” an Asian American rock band called “The Slants,” and the Washington Redskins have in common? The U.S. government says they are too “disparaging” to receive trademark protection. Today, Becket told the Supreme Court that the U.S. government should practice at home what it preaches abroad: free speech for all, even speech that offends.

For more than a decade, Becket and the federal government have fought laws banning “insulting” and “defaming” religious speech at the United Nations and in places like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Australia. These laws are widely abused to target religious minorities like Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman sitting on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Today Becket filed a brief in the Supreme Court urging the government to stop excluding allegedly “disparaging” names from the federal trademark system.

“The U.S. government tells other countries that they need to protect all speech – even when it’s offensive,” said Adèle Keim, counsel at Becket, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. “The government should practice what it preaches. When it comes to religious speech, one person’s blasphemy is often another person’s article of faith. The government shouldn’t get to decide whose beliefs are too ‘disparaging’ to be protected.”

In 2011 Simon Tam tried to register the name of his rock band, The Slants. The government rejected his application because “slant” disparages Asian-Americans (watch his TedTalk, “Give Racism a Chance”). Tam, who is Asian-American, challenged the decision in court and won. However, the government appealed and the case will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2017.

“Free speech, even speech that is not popular, is a fundamental right that the United States must protect,” said Keim. “Around the world we see that when people are not allowed to speak freely — especially about their religious beliefs—human rights suffer.”  Tam is represented by Eugene Volokh and Stuart Banner of the UCLA School of Law Supreme Court Clinic, and John Connell of Archer & Grenier, P.C. On December 16, 2016, Becket filed an amicus brief supporting Tam’s right to free expression.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Additional Information:

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court.  For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians(read more here).