In a ruling handed down this morning, the US Supreme Court unanimously sided with Asian American rock band “The Slants” against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Slants had sought to register their band’s name as a trademark, but was denied the mark under guidelines outlined in the 1946 Lanham Act, which prohibits the registration of any mark that might be deemed offensive or disparaging.
The Slants took issue with the US Patent and Trademark Office’s ruling, saying that their band name was not offensive, and was instead an effort to reclaim a racial or ethnic slur to empower the Asian American community.
However, The Slants’ legal battle to challenge the Lanham Act’s disparagement clause is of particular political relevance, as the clause also represents a significant legal basis for the Native American community’s protest of the “Washington Redskins”‘ name and trademark.
This is to say that although we would probably find value and relevancy in a debate about political restrictions that might exist to limit free speech in classrooms of higher education, what we’re seeing take place right now at Yale, University of Missouri, Ithaca College, and Claremont McKenna has very little to do with it. The protests taking place at these and other colleges and universities have almost nothing to do with attacks on free speech.
Seventeen victims had also been brutally and senselessly killed in one of Europe’s deadliest terrorist attacks in contemporary memory. They include: Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier; 76-year-old cartoonist, Jean Cabut; Muslim-French police officer, Ahmed Merabet; and, many more.
The Charlie Hebdo shootings have sparked an international outcry, much of it justified anger against an unjustifiable act of terrorism. This is a viewpoint I share with nearly every public pundit who has waded into the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack: mass murder — even mass murder in the name of a political cause — is inexcusable. Period. Full stop.
Where pundits and commentators disagree, however, is in the details of this incident, and the intersection of cultural diversity versus free speech rights.