Ruling for Community of Christ in trademark suit against breakaway church

Those of you familiar with the history of the Mormon Church know that it has a few breakaway groups, the largest of which is known as the Community of Christ. However, until 2001 it was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or RLDS Church, since that title is more than a mouthful. Despite the name change, the Community of Christ maintains the trademark to the RLDS name.

The recent history of the Community of Christ has been one of sweeping policy and doctrinal changes, which have resulted in quite a few breakaway congregations over the years. One recent offshoot is the Devon Park Restoration Branch, which was apparently using the RLDS name and old logo on its signs, stationary, website, etc. The Community of Christ didn’t like this, of course, and sued in federal court for trademark infringement. COC alleged that the Devon Park church violated the copyright (which the COC still maintains) and that the use had a substantial likelihood of confusion.

The federal judge agreed, granting a preliminary injunction. Missouri District Court Judge Gary Fenner wrote that the confusion was particularly great since the Devon Park congregation was located so close to the COC headquarters in Independence, Missouri.

The Community of Christ can fully appreciate the importance of a name. Years ago, before the recent doctrinal changes and attempts to distance itself from the original Mormon Church, the then-RLDS Church offered to deed the Kirtland Temple over to the LDS Church in exchange for the rights to the name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  One person familiar with the offer explained that the LDS Church declined the offer. The logic was that a piece of property can always be acquired later through various means, but losing a name is permanent.

Hat tip: Religion Clause
Photo credit: coolvalley

9 thoughts on “Ruling for Community of Christ in trademark suit against breakaway church”

  1. How can the Community of Christ win the suit if the trial has not even taken place? I know lawyers are not journalists, but please get your facts straight. A preliminary injunction is not the end of the case.

  2. A valid point — I changed the title of the post to be a little more precise. However, in trademark suits, a preliminary injunction is usually as good as a win. In this case the COC appears to have a slam-dunk Lanham Act case of trademark infringment, with clear prior use and a high likelihood of confusion. The only question I can see worth litigating is whether the COC reliquished its use of the RLDS name, and Judge Fenner dispensed with that question rather quickly. The burden of proof for showing abandonment of a trademark is pretty high (clear & convincing), and since the trademark was registered, it is presumed valid under 15 U.S.C. ยง 1115(a). See pages 4-7 of the opinion for more details.

  3. do you have factual information to back up the claim that the rlds offered the kirtland temple in exchange for a name?

    this attempt at a transaction never took place and is an urban myth.

    john

  4. I think the judge is wrong. The Coc hasn't shown interest in the RLDS name in quite some time. They have shelved it. When was the last time the Coc produced anything with the RLDS name on it? Also the government should not be able to dictate what a church displays in its sanctuary, yet Devon park is being forced to remove an RLDS seal from the building that they purchased secondhand!

  5. How is the judge wrong? Devon Park isn't RLDS so why should they be able to use the RLDS name at all? Why would they want to? They left the church!

  6. No, the Community of Christ left the "church" when they abandoned the name and the teachings. Or I guess maybe I should say abondoning the teachings (hence, making people leave) and then the name.

  7. Here are some excerpts of precedent setting legal rulings in Past Court cases between the Utah LDS Church and the RLDS Church… The Restoration Branches are shooting for a repeat ruling against the COC because they've forsaken the original teachings and doctrines of the original church as originally set up and taught by Joseph Smith…

    February 23, 1880, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by its attorneys, appeared before the Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio, (see journal entry, February term, 1880) as plaintiff, asking for possession of the Kirtland Temple, an edifice erected during the early days of the church, and prior to the death of Joseph Smith the Martyr. The church in Utah, then presided over by John Taylor, was named with others as defendants.
    Judge L. S. Sherman rendered the following decision:

    "That the said Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Religious Society, founded and organized upon the same doctrines and tenets, and having the same church organization, as the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, by Joseph Smith, and was organized pursuant to the constitution, laws and usages of said original Church, and has branches located in Illinois, Ohio, and other States.

    That the church in Utah, the Defendant of which John Taylor is president, has materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, laws, ordinances and usages of said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and has incorporated into its system of faith the doctrines of celestial marriage and a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of Adam-god worship, contrary to the laws and constitution of said original Church.

    And the Court do further find that the Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the True and Lawful continuation of, and successor to the said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, and is entitled in law to all its rights and property."

    In a case tried before Judge John F. Philips, in the Circuit Court of the United States, for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division, at Kansas City, Missouri.

    In his decision, rendered March 16, 1894, Judge Philips said:

    The Book of Mormon itself inveighed against the sin of polygamy…. Conformably to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants expressly declared "that we believe that one man should have but one wife, and one woman but one husband." And this declaration of the church on this subject reappeared in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, editions of 1846 and 1856. Its first appearance as a dogma of the church (the dogma of polygamy) was in the Utah Church in 1852.

    Claim is made by the Utah Church that this doctrine is predicated of a revelation made to Joseph Smith in July, 1843. No such revelation was ever made public during the life of Joseph Smith, and under the law of the church it could not become an article of faith and belief until submitted to and adopted by the church. This was never done ….

    (History of RLDS Church Vol 5 pp. 238-239)

  8. Ooops! I missed my point…

    Just as the Utah LDS Church has been ruled to have departed from the doctrines and teachings of the original church Joseph Smith set up, so has the Community of Christ… Only the Community of Christ has gone several steps farther. Closing churches, using chains and padlocks on sanctuary doors so their members could not worship.

    Further COC world headquarters has issued dictatorial orders, stating what doctrine each COC branch is allowed to teach. Regardless of what Jesus is calling us to preach, teach or expound for that day…

    Those COC branches which have rebelled quietly, continuing to teach what Joesph Smith originally taught, teaching as the Holy Spirit guides us, have been shut down!

    But padlocks and chains are the least of it. Police law enforcement also has been used in the shutting down of COC Churches who would not be party to COC departure from the faith…

    Considering many of those members pay tithe or at minimum contribute to the offering plate, the use of force to keep worshipers " inline "
    because we will not give up our spiritual identity, is not just an insult but tantamount to war.

    The Newly stated doctrines of Open Communion to just anyone off the street is the last straw. Jesus Christ's Church was put upon this earth to revive and bring salvation to the human soul. The COC having forsaken it's original RLDS name and doctrines, is now in the business of using it's heaven sent authority to bring men under condemnation by serving the Lords Supper to those not worthy…

    The COC should be aware the Book of Mormon teaches " if the gentiles do reject my gospel, a remnant of the seed of Jacob will go among them like a lion who treadeth down and teareth asunder."

    Many people are watching the internal strife in the COC, while nodding and winking and enjoying the fun. We must consider Jesus Christ restored the Church back to the earth. Do you think Jesus is going to allow another apostasy? If the answer is no than all of us had better not be caught standing on the sidelines allowing the teaching of our Director to be trampled on.

    While I'm a peace loving man myself, I'm fast getting to the point of Boston Tea Party Time.

    Sincerely]

    James Brian Marshall

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