On December 22nd, Simon Tam won his lawsuit in Federal court, and in doing so won a hugely significant ruling for the First Amendment. Simon Tam’s victory in securing his right of free speech may be long remembered as a turning point in a culture where too many institutions have been censoring the freedom of expression.
Simon Tam is a member of the Asian-American rock group, The Slants. The group routinely applied for trademark protection for its name. The US Patent and Trademark Office denied the application, asserting that the name of the group may offend some people. In reply, Simon Tam sued the Federal government for violating his right of free speech.
Attorneys for the government claimed that the Lanham Act, which was passed by Congress in 1946, forbids the granting of trademarks for “scandalous, immoral, or disparaging remarks.” The issue before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was, does Simon Tam’s right of free speech prevail over the government’s intention to decide what speech is permissible.
As the case moved through the Federal judiciary, it gained enormous prominence as many institutions recognized that the eventual outcome would influence much of our modern culture. As you well know, many schools, universities, and quasi-private organizations have sought to suppress free speech.
You routinely read about students being punished for expressing an opinion that conflicts with left-wing orthodoxy. You have seen news reports which have related how people have lost their jobs because of their faith. If this destructive trend had not been reversed by the Federal Court of Appeals, the Constitution and our rights would have been greatly imperiled.
Here are some of the opening words of the ruling. I quote them, just as they were written.
“Many of the (trade)marks rejected as disparaging convey hurtful speech that harms members of oft-stigmatized communities. But the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech. The government cannot refuse to register disparaging marks because it disapproves of the expressive messages conveyed by the marks. It cannot refuse to register marks because it concludes that such marks will be disparaging to others.”
In summary, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in full panel, ruled 9-3 that free speech may not be suppressed by politically-correct government actors.
In the bizarre world of some institutions, there exist such things as micro-aggresions, white privilege, safe-spaces and free speech zones. As absurd as these things are, the overseers who wield government power in those institutions cause great harm to individuals and to our culture.
For example, Kevin Cochran, the former Fire Chief of Atlanta, was fired for writing a devotional book for a Baptist Church. The book discussed issues such as homosexuality, gay marriage and premarital sex from a Biblical perspective. Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed, said, “I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback.” Chief Cochran lost his job because the Mayor disagreed with his free speech.
The University of North Carolina, like many universities, has a speech code. It specifically says that there is a requirement that everyone must only engage in discourse that is “respectful.” At UNC, all liberal dogma is respectful, while many conservative beliefs are considered hateful and punished.
Simon Tam has struck a blow for the Constitution and sanity. It is regrettable that it took a Federal Appeals Court to recognize what ordinary people, like you and me, have always known.
In closing, I extend my thanks to Simon Tam and hope that Hollywood makes a movie about his heroic stand.
Well done, Simon Tam!
Ken Adams is the Chairman of the Waynesboro Virginia Republican Committee.