A worrying development: Dominionist SLAPPs
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Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 09:02:45 PM EST
I have previously reported on Talk2Action regarding similarities between dominionist groups practicing "deliverance ministry" and Scientology.  Most of the similarities so far have been with dogma, along with occasional demonisation of critics.

I must now add one more similarity to the list--both groups are now engaged in suing critics and ISPs of critics in order to shut dissent down by specifically abusing trademark and copyright law.

My original introduction to coercive groups--and learning the dominionist church I grew up in was spiritually abusive--was via my involvement in assisting administrators fighting gross network abuse by the Scientologists back in the early 90's.

Specifically, one of the (many, many) tactics taken was to sue the network providers, and individual persons hosting, a document called the "Fishman Papers"--a copy of the legal affidavit of one Douglas Fishman, who had testified in regards to abuse by Scientology in court and had posted a book containing many of the "secret" scriptures of Scientology that the latter was charging upwards of half a million dollars in "clearing course" fees to see.

Scientology's lawyers sued many of these sites to remove the Fishman Affidavit, even though the affidavit was not sealed by the court, by misuse of copyright law--claiming that the documents were copyrighted and that the groups  fighting Scientology were essentially pirates.

The purpose of this, of course, was to silence critics of Scientology (such as FactNet--one of the most outspoken anti-spiritual-abuse groups exposing Scientology, and one of the two or three most active in exposing abuse in "Bible-based" cults as well including abuse within dominionism).  In one case, sadly, this was successful--the old Cult Awareness Network was literally sued into bankruptcy and taken over by Scientologists.

The result was to unite much of the Internet behind the people being sued, and did a lot to expose the general dirty tricks used by Scientology.

Sadly, the dominionists have now picked up on the strategy used--a variant of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), a common method of legal harassment against whistleblowers including misuse of copyright and trademark law.

Jews for Jesus--one of several groups that are essentially "kosher Christian" groups that specifically target Jews for conversion--is one of the very few "messianic Jew" groups not associated with the Assemblies of God, but is known for not only "stealth evangelism" and other hardsell tactics but is intrinsically tied to premillenial dispensationalist movements--conversion of a "Critical mass" of Jews to pentecostal Christianity is often seen as a "trigger event" for the Rapture in premillenial dispensationalist circles.

Jews for Jesus, and "messianic Jew" groups in general, are among the groups frequently noted for being blatantly coercive by experts on spiritual abuse; at least one exit counselor, Rick Ross, has had his own family members targeted by "Jews for Jesus"-like "messianic Jew" groups associated with the Assemblies of God.  (As it is, Rick Ross is one of the few sources reporting specificially on spiritual abuse within that denomination.)  One of the tactics used by Jews for Jesus is targeting youth at rock concerts.  

Jews for Jesus itself is one of the earliest groups targeting Jews, and is also a group that has multiple connections to dominionism; not only are they close friends with dominionists including premillenial dispensationalists, but is explicitly dominionist itself (Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice, was a recruiter for Jews for Jesus) and has even partnered with the Texas Restoration Movement in political electioneering including with a minister who has claimed Hurricane Katrina is divine retribution.  Dominionist churches, primarily the Assemblies of God and Southern Baptist Convention, are also major promoters of groups like Jews for Jesus.  Jews for Jesus is also promoted by dominionist groups; this site (run by a front group of Campus Crusade for Christ) promotes Jews for Jesus, and a list of dominionist groups is cross-promoted; Promise Keepers has promoted Jews for Jesus along with other dominionist organisations at its rallies.  Jews for Jesus is also itself quite explicitly premillenarian dispensationalist in that it has literally claimed Saddam Hussein is the Antichrist.

Groups like Jews for Jesus have been condemned by many mainstream Jewish groups as being antisemitic.  Statements from "Christian Jews" claiming things like the Holocaust being "God's vengeance" on Judaism for "rejecting Christ don't help matters; to say the larger Jewish population is not amused is quite possibly the understatement of the century, and in fact countercult groups like Jews for Judaism have sprung up.  One of the major objections is the appropriation of traditional Jewish religious practices for what are essentially pentecostal services; another major objection is the targeting of elderly and young Jews in particular.

At any rate, you all know now that Jews for Jesus is essentially a mess of "kosher dominionists" that are pretty widely recognised as being cultic and are some of the major "partners in crime" in the dominionist community targeting Jews.

Quite understandably, this has resulted in debate.  One particular site--JewsForJesus on Blogspot--was set up specifically to discuss the tactics of Jews for Jesus and to see if any meaningful dialogue could take place with members.  (The purpose of the blog is quite similar, if with more limited focus, to that of Talk2Action in regards to debate and dialogue regarding dominionism.)

The group, which was started by a critic of Jews for Jesus and its tactics, has now been threatened--along with Blogspot--with a lawsuit by Jews for Jesus:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Christian evangelical group Jews for Jesus is suing Google Inc., saying a Web log hosted through the Internet search leader's Blogspot service infringes its trademark.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York on Wednesday, seeks to force Google to give Jews for Jesus control of the site as well as unspecified monetary damages.

"We have a right to our own name and Google has allowed the use of our name on Blogspot without our permission," said Susan Perlman, associate executive director with Jews for Jesus.

"Our reputation is at stake," Perlman told Reuters.

Google's Blogspot and Blogger services allow people to set up Web logs, or online journals known as "blogs" for short, for free. A Google spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.

The disputed blog, http://jewsforjesus.blogspot.com, was started in January 2005 by someone taking the name "Whistle Blower" and airing critical views of the San Francisco-based organization, which seeks to convert Jews to Christianity.

The site has only three entries, the last of which was made on May 9.

Comments on the blog showed that Jews for Jesus attempted to persuade Whistle Blower to transfer the domain to the group but was rebuffed.


The tactics--even the legal claims that "we're not trying to stifle dissent, really" by Jews for Jesus--are very similar, really identical, to the same tactics used by Scientology to stifle critics who posted the Fishman Affidavit.

This is not quite the first time that SLAPPs by dominionist groups have been attempted--the Assemblies of God tends to file countersuit SLAPPS against people in both the US and Oz who have sued for damages relating to spiritual abuse in that group--but this is one of the first Scientology-style lawsuits that I've seen where copyright and trademark law are being abused for the specific purpose of shutting a potentially critical forum down.

(And people WONDER why I posted a detailed comparison of these folks to Scientologists!)

Sadly, this shouldn't be surprising; the thing is, as a blog that is openly critical of dominionism we do have to worry about this.

One of the things, of course, that will help is hosting our own site, which we're doing already.  

Another thing we will need to do is consider a legal support fund--seeing as at least one major anti-cult group has been bankrupted and hijacked by Scientology in past (the old Cult Awareness Network) and people themselves may be subject to suits as awareness of dominionism and the spiritual abuse inherent in it continues, we do need to prepare ourselves for the real possibility of a SLAPP lawsuit or of dominionist groups trademarking their names to prevent their use in critical publications.

Another tactic is to find friendly Internet providers and hosts who are willing to widely mirror information.  (XS4ALL.nl is a site in the Netherlands that has a very public policy regarding refusal to kowtow to SLAPP lawsuits, and which has successfully fought attempts by Scientology to remove the Fishman Affidavit.)

Another tactic--which became necessary when Scientology critics and their ISPs started being served with lawsuits left and right--is providing multiple mirrors for documents critical of dominionism.  Interestingly, one project (Freenet) was developed specifically as a way to set up an anonymous, distributed, secured P2P network to defeat tactics such as that done by Scientology and to enable mass mirroring of documents like the Fishman Affidavit.

Most important--is to not only not shut up, but to shout even louder, and to point out just what dirty tricks are being used.  It worked against Scientology, and it can work against dominionists trying to shut down sites critical of them.

ADDENDUM:

Several people have noted that there may be valid legal grounds for a lawsuit and write regarding my statement this is a possible SLAPP lawsuit. I'm posting this addendum to clarify my concern.

Actually, Jews for Jesus *does* have a history of SLAPP lawsuits, largely against Jewish groups that have reported on the deceptive tactics used to recruit members of the Jewish community; they also have attempted a very similar lawsuit against a critic of Jews for Jesus who put up a website, http://www.jewsforjesus.org (and who later lost--setting a precedent that would later be abused).

As the Brodsky case (much like this case) *could* potentially be claimed to be a trademark infringement case, I'm going to concentrate on the pure SLAPPs:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messianic_Jews notes a SLAPP attempted against the Long Island Council of Churches by Jews for Jesus (claiming defamation because the group reported on highly spiritually abusive tactics within Jews for Jesus); in 1977 the case was thrown out of court.

http://www.exjewsforjesus.org/response.html (which is a group critical of Jews for Jesus, and has been speculated as a potential target for lawsuits by Jews for Jesus) has noted a history of threats of SLAPPs by Jews for Jesus against members speaking out against abuse.

The Anti-Defamation League notes multiple SLAPP lawsuits:

a) the Brodsky case (involving the registry of http://www.jewsforjesus.org by a critic of the group, which in one of the early appeals was noted as a potential SLAPP; unfortunately, it also has set a precedent that not only Jews for Jesus but Scientology has used to shut down critical sites on grounds that the mere /mention/ of the group is "trademark infringement")

b) no less than *two* separate SLAPP suits against the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, one being a defamation suit (in regards to a pamphlet warning of spiritual abuse within Jews for Jesus) and one being in regards to a separate pamphet warning the Jewish community not to attend a gathering advertised to Jews in the area that was run by "messianic" groups

The Brodsky case is itself controversial, in that there was debate over what legally constituted the trademark and, as noted, there is evidence that the suit was brought for the sole purpose of shutting down the site critical of Jews for Jesus. At least one legal guide mentioning the Brodsky case seems to mention that the big thing was that Brodsky may have been selling his books on the website--not the case in regards to the Blogspot page.

Jews for Jesus itself has a history of being sued. Firstly, at least one person has been fighting Jews for Jesus for several years over Jews for Jesus falsely claiming she had converted at the deathbed of her late husband; reportedly the Liberty Counsel and ACLJ were assisting Jews for Jesus in the lawsuit. (Yes, this becomes very important.)

Jews for Jesus has *itself* also been sued for copyright infringement--specifically, the author of the Curious George books has sued Jews for Jesus for unauthorised use of Curious George in at least one of their pamphlets.

There are at least two other possible cases (if one considers jewsforjesus.blogspot.com to be trademark infringement) where Jews for Jesus has committed possible infringement--one involving a site openly critical of Jews for Jesus.

Cultic Studies Journal has noted Jews for Jesus' past SLAPP attempts against the JCRC. A copy of the legal decision regarding one of the two SLAPP suits is online. There is also quite a bit of evidence this case was a classic SLAPP in that JCRC was apparently specifically targeted because they termed Jews for Jesus a coercive religious group. (This would be in agreement with /most/ exit counselling groups.)

Quite literally *every* other lawsuit I have been able to find involving Jews for Jesus that did not involve a) a lawsuit against critics of the organisation or b) involve being sued by a critic involved suing to allow them to distribute tracts; this page has an example of a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Transportation Authority (trying to get the MTA to allow Jews for Jesus to tract-handle on city bus systems, when there was a blanket ban on solicitation by any group on MTA facilities or property). Another lawsuit, which Jews for Jesus ultimately lost, was over whether Jews for Jesus tract-handlers could distribute tracts at NFL games without purchasing tickets.

At least one other lawsuit of this type--which may cross the boundary to being a SLAPP--was a case against York University of Ontario involving a ban on non-student soliciting which was, in part, instituted because of problems with Jews for Jesus tract-handlers on campus.

The reason I note it may be important to watch out for this with dominionist groups in general is this: Not only do dominionist legal groups (the ACLJ and Liberty Counsel) have a history of assisting Jews for Jesus in SLAPP lawsuits, but during the period of many of their SLAPPs Jay Sekulow was legal counsel for Jews for Jesus and is presently the head of the ACLJ. (In other words, the /leader of one of the two really major pro-dominionist legal groups/ has actually been the major party behind lawsuits in attempts to stifle criticism of Jews for Jesus.)

As SLAPP lawsuits are increasingly a common tactic of coercive religious groups in general (again, Jews for Jesus has a history of it, but so do other groups not associated with dominionism) but the fact that the more hardcore dominionist groups may themselves qualify as coercive religious groups (and at least some, especially in the Third Wave and similar "spiritual warfare" movements, do explicitly include policies that "dirty tricks" are allowed against critics) it IS something to watch.

Of special note is that at least one of the groups documented in using "stealth evangelism" tactics and "dirty pool" against its critics--including overt demonisation--is also the parent group of practically all Messianic Jew groups--that being the Assemblies of God, which is also highly tied to dominionist movements (and could be legitimately claimed to be the *birthplace* of dominionism in its modern form, to some extent).

The ultimate proof re Jews for Jesus may be if they target the various "Ex-Jews for Jesus" communities and/or Jews for Judaism (the latter of which is a group highly critical of Jews for Jesus).




Display:
against critics of religious right organizations.

In this instance, it seems to me that Jews for Jesus, whatever else one may think of the group, has a valid complaint regarding trademark infringement.

Even if Jews for Jesus did not have a valid complaint, there is no evidence presented in this diary of a pattern of slapp suits by Jews for Jesus or any other religious right organization.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 09:54:17 PM EST

Actually, Jews for Jesus does have a history of SLAPP lawsuits, largely against Jewish groups that have reported on the coercive tactics used; they also have attempted a very similar lawsuit against a critic of Jews for Jesus who put up a website, http://www.jewsforjesus.org (and who later lost).

As the Brodsky case (much like this case) could potentially be claimed to be a trademark infringement case, I'm going to concentrate on the pure SLAPPs:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messianic_Jews notes a SLAPP attempted against the Long Island Council of Churches by Jews for Jesus (claiming defamation because the group reported on highly spiritually abusive tactics within Jews for Jesus); in 1977 the case was thrown out of court.

http://www.exjewsforjesus.org/response.html (which is a group critical of Jews for Jesus, and has been speculated as a potential target for lawsuits by Jews for Jesus) has noted a history of threats of SLAPPs by Jews for Jesus against members speaking out against abuse.

The Anti-Defamation League notes multiple SLAPP lawsuits:

a) the Brodsky case (involving the registry of http://www.jewsforjesus.org by a critic of the group, which in one of the early appeals was noted as a potential SLAPP; unfortunately, it also has set a precedent that not only Jews for Jesus but Scientology has used to shut down critical sites on grounds that the mere mention of the group is "trademark infringement")

b) no less than two separate SLAPP suits against the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, one being a defamation suit (in regards to a pamphlet warning of spiritual abuse within Jews for Jesus) and one being in regards to a separate pamphet warning the Jewish community not to attend a gathering advertised to Jews in the area that was run by "messianic" groups

Jews for Jesus itself has a history of being sued.  Firstly, at least one person has been fighting Jews for Jesus for several years over Jews for Jesus falsely claiming she had converted at the deathbed of her late husband; reportedly the Liberty Counsel and ACLJ were assisting Jews for Jesus in the lawsuit.  (Yes, this becomes very important.)

Jews for Jesus has itself also been sued for copyright infringement--specifically, the author of the Curious George books has sued Jews for Jesus for unauthorised use of Curious George in at least one of their pamphlets.

Cultic Studies Journal has noted Jews for Jesus' past SLAPP attempts against the JCRC.  A copy of the legal decision regarding one of the two SLAPP suits is online.

(For the record, yes, I will be amending the main post to clarify that Jews for Jesus has a history of this misbehaviour.)

The reason I note it may be important to watch out for this with dominionist groups in general is this:  Not only do dominionist legal groups (the ACLJ and Liberty Counsel) have a history of assisting Jews for Jesus in SLAPP lawsuits, but during the period of many of their SLAPPs Jay Sekulow was legal counsel for Jews for Jesus and is presently the head of the ACLJ.  (In other words, the leader of one of the two really major pro-dominionist legal groups has actually been the major party behind lawsuits in attempts to stifle criticism of Jews for Jesus.)

As SLAPP lawsuits are increasingly a common tactic of coercive religious groups in general (again, Jews for Jesus has a history of it, but so do other groups not associated with dominionism) but the fact that the more hardcore dominionist groups may themselves qualify as coercive religious groups (and at least some, especially in the Third Wave and similar "spiritual warfare" movements, do explicitly include policies that "dirty tricks" are allowed against critics) it IS something to watch.

The ultimate proof re Jews for Jesus may be if they target the various "Ex-Jews for Jesus" communities and/or Jews for Judaism (the latter of which is a group highly critical of Jews for Jesus).

by dogemperor on Sat Dec 24, 2005 at 10:39:49 PM EST
Parent

and supporting part of the point you are trying to make. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to do the research, put in the links, and make a case. You are great about doing this kind of documentation and it is one of the great strengths you bring to this effort.

But I hasten to add, that even as amended, no evidence of a larger trend involving slapp suits has been presented. Only that Jews for Jesus has a history of litigious behavior. Thus the original headline and apparent purpose of the diary is misleading.

Let's also be clear that SLAPP suits were not invented by Scientology, but by corporations. That Scientology is famously litigious is of little interest here. That Jews for Jesus has a history of being litigious only gives one special reason to be particularly careful when writing about them. Uncareful writing about litigious groups -- or anyone else -- is unwise at best, and is not acceptable on this site.

Let's also be clear about what is on topic.  While I have a long history of being supportive of anti-cult causes and even received an award from the Leo. J Ryan Foundation. But anti-cultism, per se, is not a topic of this site except in so far as it relates to the politics of the religious right.  In order to move the conversations we need to have thoughtfully forward, it is important that we retain our focus and use great care to demonstrate the relevance of the material we write about.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 25, 2005 at 01:00:33 AM EST
Parent

Understood completely, and my main point in writing on this was that--due to some initial signs of this with a group that has connections to a known dominionist legal organisation (the American Center for Law and Justice) we may want to be on the lookout for similar cases.

Personally, I will be very happy if we don't see any more cases like that.  If it's the PTSD playing me up, I'll actually be grateful.

I've just seen enough dirty tactics from dominionist groups (and more particularly, the dominionist groups involved with the "spiritual warfare" movement so popular in pentecostal circles) that I mostly was wishing to warn of a possible escalation in tactics that we should be on the alert for--just in case.

(Then again, as I myself am a walkaway from a group whose deacon has literally been sued for libel legitimately when he tried to claim that the editor of a newspaper targeting the gay community was a child molester, I also tend to be a little jumpy over anything like dirty tactics.)

If you think this post is not quite in the "target" of this community, I'm not going to object to its removal.  (As it is, we have plenty of other stuff to worry about with dominionism as is.)  I just wanted to note where I was coming from.  This is one of those areas, frankly, where I do hope the PTSD is playing me up.

by dogemperor on Sun Dec 25, 2005 at 01:16:57 AM EST
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