“The Slants” had their trademark challenged as disparaging and took it to the Supreme Court.
Asian American Simon Tam is battling the federal government over his band’s trademark, under a federal law that forbids the registration of “disparaging” marks. The Slants first tried to register their band name in 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) refused the trademark application for “The Slants” as being offensive to people of Asian ancestry. Tam appealed.
Last December, the appeals court of the federal circuit ruled that the law in question [Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits registration of a trademark that “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute”] violates the Constitution.
“It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys,” said the appeals court in the ruling, which noted that denying The Slants the request for a trademark amounted to “viewpoint discrimination.”
The dispute provoked a lively Supreme Court argument in January over free speech, political correctness and the government’s refusal to sanction what it sees as a racial slur.
The justices struggled over whether the refusal by Congress and the Patent and Trademark Office’s to register trademarks that can be seen as disparaging people or their beliefs violates the 1st Amendment.
While The Slants are proud of their music, it’s always gone hand-in-hand with political advocacy. They seek to help other marginalized groups, ranging from gays and lesbians to the Black Lives Matter movement, through workshops and charitable activities.
“Arts and activism have always moved forward together,” Tam says.