Farris Threatens to Sue LGBT Blog at College

If you don’t know who Michael Farris is, you should. He’s one of the most powerful people in the Christian right. He’s also the chancellor of Patrick Henry College, a charm school for wingnuts. And he got so upset about a group of students anonymously starting a pro-gay blog about the school that he threatened to sue them:

Since July, three anonymous bloggers at the Über-conservative Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, have been running Queer Patrick Henry College, a blog about sexuality and identity on campus. You might expect such a website to elicit some concern at a school with a policy forbidding students from “advocat[ing] non-Biblical sexual practices,” according to the student handbook. But chancellor (and constitutional lawyer) Michael Farris went much further: He threatened to take the bloggers to court.

In a private message to the blog’s Facebook page on Saturday, Farris claimed that QueerPHC infringes on the school’s copyright of the name “Patrick Henry College,” and admonished them to talk about LGBT students at Patrick Henry College “without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.” Farris further warned that if the blog wasn’t taken down, the school would pursue legal action, reveal the bloggers’ identities, and “seek damages from you as permitted by the law.” QueerPHC promptly posted the message.

Farris later backed off the threat, which was empty from the start. They would have lost in court and they know it. Remember that the next time you hear Farris talking about the free speech rights of Christians.

Comments

  1. Sastra says

    I’ll also remember it when I hear Farris talking about the emphasis the school places on a good understanding of the law.

  2. Didaktylos says

    Perhaps this was intended principally as a means of identifying the individuals involved? After all, even if the legal proceedings are a slam-dunk loss, they might consider it a worthwhile action. Still what can you expect from an institution named after a notorious criminal?

  3. jeevmon says

    Trebuchet- as an attorney who practices IP law, let me tell you, lots of people don’t know the difference between trademark and copyright.

  4. John Horstman says

    @3: Ha! My first though was, “Wait, they mean ‘trademark’, not ‘copyright’, right?”

  5. eric says

    I think @2′s right, the real purpose behind such a suit would be to out the contributors so the school could expel them. After all, the ‘use of PHC brand’ thing is trivially easy to resolve. The students make a superficial name change to the blog and everyone still knows what it is. How about: QueerMostDefinitelyNotPHC.

  6. Scott Hanley says

    I wouldn’t bet a fallen twig that Farris knows anything about IP himself, or that he even bothered to phone the school’s counsel for advice before posting that message.

  7. busterggi says

    Apparently the folks in charge of this college are unaware that the historic Patrick Henry advocated freedom, not theocracy.

  8. says

    I’m too busy to do it, but I am sure that there are hundreds of people out there who can set up blogs that will pull traffic from Farris’ website–without breaking a sweat or any laws.

    I wake up every morning thinking that it’s impossible to have more disdain than the ReiKKKwing in general and the KKKristian ReiKKK in particular; every day I am disabused of that notion before I finish my first cup of coffee.

  9. Ichthyic says

    But chancellor (and constitutional lawyer) Michael Farris

    constitutional lawyer?

    the irony burns.

  10. jakc says

    @jeevmon. In terms of copyright and trademark, what happens when the copyright for a work underlying a trademarked expires ( say Superman and Action Comics 1)? It just seems that big corporations are trying to blur any distinction between the two.

  11. Trebuchet says

    @Jeevmon:

    – as an attorney who practices IP law, let me tell you, lots of people don’t know the difference between trademark and copyright.

    Off Topic, but I’m reminded of a long and somewhat acrimonious discussion some years ago on the Catapult Message Board in which an official of the Punkin Chunkin Association thought that obtaining a trademark on the term “Punkin Chunkin” gave them the authority to regulate all vegetable-hurling activities in the USA.

  12. Crudely Wrott says

    So Farris backed off, did he?

    Perhaps he started on a long walk and found himself on a short pier.

    How perfectly wonderful though the wonder is lost to him.

    The building of short piers is part of what the Constitution accomplished and part of what made it unique among the myriad attempts of the past to manage human affairs. We should do that some more.

  13. jws1 says

    @#10: I was under the impression that Henry was indeed a theocrat who boycotted the Constitutional Convention because he knew it was not going to be an explicitly “Christians Only” club.

  14. F [disappearing] says

    I’d say wow, this guy is an idiot (he’s still an idiot), but people get away with this kind of crap in our courts enough to make the attempt worthwhile, so a not entirely stupid move for his goal which is indeed stupid.

    Trebuchet says:

    Also discussed at Popehat, where a commenter points out the Farris doesn’t even know the difference between trademark and copyright.

    jeevmon says:

    Trebuchet- as an attorney who practices IP law, let me tell you, lots of people don’t know the difference between trademark and copyright.

    That’s because it is all one big vat of amorphous “IP” in a bad system with bad rules and laws and special treatment for certain industry sectors and people imagining they “moral rights” over some things. Never mind that trademark is completely different from patent and copyright, really isn’t IP, and trademarks are meant to be defended to avoid (and only in potential cases of) consumer confusion. (You may have copyright on portions of your trademark, but that is entirely separate.)

  15. Michael Heath says

    jws1 writes:

    I was under the impression that Henry was indeed a theocrat who boycotted the Constitutional Convention because he knew it was not going to be an explicitly “Christians Only” club.

    That was not Mr. Henry’s motivation. He was concerned about a too powerful central government and the lack of a bill of rights, which led him to believe that central government would infringe upon our inalienable rights. Rather than walking away from public participation after the Constitution was ratified, he instead became a champion of the Bill of Rights which passed Congress. He eventually became a key ally to both President Washington and Adams in spite of being an anti-federalist during the debates and ratification of the Constitution. So he adapted to an improved position, something we do not observe from today’s conservatives who are incapable of learning from experience and evolving accordingly.

    Mr. Henry did advocate all Virginians belong to a religion, any would do, in order for the commonwealth to equally tax all its citizens for the upkeep of their respective religions. This was a step away from theocracy since Anglicans had long enjoyed the power of government support to the detriment of other religions active in Virginia. He lost because Thomas Jefferson and James Madison eventually won the day in Virginia with their Statue of Religious Freedom. That statute went way further than Henry’s bill, where their bill separated church from state. So Henry’s position wasn’t all that radical in that time nor was he a theocrat. [Jefferson was in France during the debates that led to passage - Madison was the leader of this initiative. However Jefferson was the originator of this initiative several years earlier and therefore deserves mention.]

    Far too often secularists sell-out Henry’s actual legacy because he provides a simplistic sound-bite reaction to today’s theocrats, i.e., that he was wrong on his tax policy and wrong on who would threaten our rights – the federal government vs. the state. But doing so creates an overly-simplistic caricature of a founder whose entire biography deserves our respect, not our condemnation. Especially Henry’s championing of individual rights albeit with some defects. Defects nearly all the founders suffered from combined to the fact he didn’t walk away after suffering political losses. Instead Henry adapted to positions which continually had him working in the public interest as he saw it, not like our current set of conservative Christians who fight to maintain their beliefs regardless of events.

  16. barrydecicco says

    What he’s probably trying to do is to find out who the bloggers are, so that he can expel them. Which he can do at will, since PHC is a private religious institution, which means that it has is zero religious freedom.

  17. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    whose entire biography deserves our respect, not our condemnation. Especially [Patrick] Henry’s championing of individual rights albeit with some defects. – Michael Heath

    Like owning slaves while prating about his willingness to die in defence of liberty, you mean?

  18. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    a policy forbidding students from “advocat[ing] non-Biblical sexual practices,”

    So, no problem if they advocate selling your daughter into slavery, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, or one man having 700 wives and 300 concubines?

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