Missionaries lose appeal on rights to menorah

The Canadian Jewish News/July 10, 2003
By Ron Csillag

Chosen People Ministries (CPM), a Jews for Jesus-type group, is not entitled to use a stylized menorah as a legally protected symbol because the organization is not a "public authority," the Federal Court of Appeal ruled last week.

The court dismissed CPM's appeal of a Federal Court (trial division) ruling a year ago that reversed a decision by Canada's Registrar of Trademarks to grant CPM's semi-circular menorah official mark status in 1999.

In a brief oral decision handed down from the bench last week, a three-judge panel upheld last year's ruling, and awarded costs to Canadian Jewish Congress, which has for years fought CPM's attempt to protect a stylized, semi-circular menorah the group already uses on its stationery and signs.

Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations for CJC, was pleased with the ruling, saying it "sends an additional message that [CPM] cannot misappropriate Jewish symbols with impunity."

CJC said the case serves as an another example of the deceptive and underhanded tactics so-called Hebrew-Christians use to lure vulnerable Jews to evangelical Christianity.

In documents submitted to the court, Congress argued that the menorah is "an ancient and hallowed symbol of the Jewish people," and CPM's "sole activity is to attempt to convert Jewish people to Christianity."

The court heard that CPM, a New York-based group with about 100 Canadian adherents and an office in Toronto, attempted to get official mark designation for its menorah on three previous occasions, and was turned down each time. The group was successful on its fourth try, in December 1999.

At the same time, CPM applied for trademark status for its menorah. That was also opposed by Congress, at the government level, but both sides have held that battle in abeyance pending the outcome of the court case over the official mark.

An official mark offers legal protection that is superior to a trademark. The status would have permitted CPM to use its menorah on all its wares and services, including those for sale, and potentially prevent others from using the same or similar symbol for commercial purposes.

But Congress pointed out that official mark protection is only granted to "public authorities," over which the government exercises control regarding funding, activities and tax rules. Congress questioned how CPM satisfies the definition of a public authority, which must operate for the benefit of the public and fill a public need.

The court agreed CPM is not a public authority, since it is not publicly funded and not subject to a sufficient degree of government control or intervention. The court noted that simply issuing receipts for tax deductions does not qualify a charity as a public authority.

CPM's lawyer, Mervyn White, argued that all charities operating in Canada are public authorities because they represent public interests, and are subject to "absolute and invasive" government control and are "creatures of statute."

Noting the "high level of animosity" directed at his client, White said CPM sought the designation for its logo in order to protect the group from "persecution" and avoid having its religious beliefs "degraded."

Inevitably, arguments spilled over into theology and the thorny relations that have existed between so-called Hebrew-Christian groups and the Jewish community.

White conceded his client's mandate is to "spread the word of Jesus Christ among Jewish individuals in Canada." He said CPM's beliefs "do not accord with traditional Jewish or Christian beliefs, but the symbol accords with their beliefs."

CJC lawyer Ben Zarnett countered that members of CPM are "born-again Christians who believe in the deity of Jesus Christ" and whose "goal is the conversion of Jews to the Christian faith."

The menorah is the "universal symbol of the Jewish people," and the official emblem of Israel, he said.

Arguing that CPM is a public authority is tantamount to saying the Canadian government is in the business of converting people from one religion to another, Zarnett told the court.

Larry Rich, CPM's Canadian director, told The CJN his group would soon decide whether to seek leave to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Meantime, he said, "we are committed to our goal of sharing Yeshua [Jesus] with the Jewish people."

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