NORFOLK, Va. (CN) - A "Christian" group dedicated to a "God-given purpose for life" sued the NAACP in Federal Court, claiming it did not violate trademark by using the phrase "The National Association for the Abortion of Colored People."
The Radiance Foundation and its founder Ryan Bomberger seek a declaration that its "news article" did not infringe, tarnish or dilute the NAACP trademark, did not constitute unfair competition or palming off, and was protected by the First Amendment.
In his complaint, Bomberger claims he founded Radiance in 2009 "to educate people about pressing social issues and how these impact the understanding of a God-given purpose for life and to motivate people to positively influence families, schools and communities."
He claims his group "researches, prepares, and distributes news articles and high quality media regarding social issues," among them, race relations and abortions.
The complaint states: "In June 2011, in conjunction with its TooManyAborted.com campaign, Radiance designed and facilitated the erection of50 billboards in Georgia declaring that 'The 13th Amendment Freed Us. Abortion Enslaves Us.'"
In response, a senior vice president of the NAACP criticized the billboards, Bomberger says, telling the Huffington Post: "'Comparing abortion to slavery certainly raises major concerns. Women are not forced to have abortions the way they were in servitude. Slavery was not about having the right to make any decisions. Women were actually bred to produce children for the purposes of profit. This is so far removed from that, that if it weren't such a serious issue, it would almost be laughable,'" according to the complaint.
Bomberger, who is black, then published an article on his website, under the headline "NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People."
In that article, he wrote: "The NAACP, whose moniker would better be described as the National Association for Abortion of Colored People, publicly proclaimed their support of abortion when they endorsed the 2004 'March for Women's Lives' held by Planned Parenthood and NARAL.' The headline and the reference to the 'National Association for the Abortion of Colored People clearly, unambiguously and cleverly comments upon and criticizes the defendant and its policies and positions on abortion in light of its disproportionate impact on African American families,'" according to the complaint.
Bomberger claims that he wrote more articles on the subject, and gave a speech to the National Press Club in December 2012 in which he "criticized the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus for failing to oppose abortion." (21)
He says in the complaint that his advocacy got him a letter from NAACP attorney Ned Himmelrich, threatening legal action for his use of the NAACP name, it's "Scales of Justice' seal," and the words "Image Awards." And he claims that the civil rights group said that the phrase "The National Association for the Abortion of Colored People" constitutes willful trademark infringement and unfair competition.
Bomberger says the NAACP's claims are baseless because he's not trying to sell goods or services and his use of the terms and seal does not create a likelihood of confusion.
"On information and belief, at the time that the Himmelrich letter was presented to the plaintiffs, the NAACP knew that its claims of infringement were without merit and the letter was issued solely in order to chill the plaintiffs from exercising their First Amendment rights and specifically, to chill them from criticizing the NAACP's failure to oppose abortion, notwithstanding its disproportionate impact in black communities," Bomberger says in the complaint.
He wrote on his website that "it is ironic that a black man is being sued by the nation's oldest civil rights group for exercising his most basic civil right - the freedom of speech. This threat of legal action from the NAACP is nothing more than a multimillion-dollar organization's attempt to bully someone who's simply telling the truth."
He seeks declaratory judgment.
He is represented by Charles Allen, with Goodman Allen Filetti, of Glen Allen, Va.