Supreme Court hears case of the banned band

Becket urges court to protect free speech and religious speech, even speech that offends 

For Immediate Release:  January 18, 2017
Media Contact:  Melinda Skea | media@becketfund.org | 202-349-7224

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Moments ago, an Asian American rock band called The Slants argued for their right to free speech before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will decide whether the First Amendment allows the government to reject the band’s trademark application because their name was deemed “too offensive” to be protected. Becket Law, which on behalf of the band, emphasized that this case will have a lasting impact, including for religious freedom.

Simon Tam is a political activist and musician from Portland, Oregon. In 2011, Tam tried to register the name of his rock band, The Slants, in the federal trademark system but the government rejected his application because “Slant” was deemed to disparage Asian-Americans. Tam, who is Asian-American, challenged the decision in court and won. The government then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide his case before the end of June.

“Around the world we see that when free speech is threatened, it is minorities who suffer,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the non-profit religious liberty law firm Becket Law. “No government should have the power to punish speech to protect beliefs, institutions, or people from criticism.”

For more than a decade, Becket Law 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, where minority groups are silenced and marginalized for expressing their beliefs. These laws are widely abused to target religious minorities like Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman currently sitting on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed. The government has long opposed blasphemy laws that ban offensive speech against beliefs and institutions abroad, yet the same U.S. government is blocking allegedly “disparaging” names from the federal trademark system.

“The government should practice what it preaches. When it comes to religious speech, one person’s blasphemy is often another person’s belief. The government does not get to decide whose speech is  jtoo ‘disparaging’ to be protected,” said Smith.

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. Last month, Becket Law 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 information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketfund.org or 202-349-7224.  Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.                                                    

Additional Information:

  • Amicus Brief (December 16, 2016)
  • Media Kit for Lee v. Tam (press releases, legal documents, news, images, and more)

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Becket Law 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).