The Canadian branch of Chosen People Ministries (CPM) has used a menorah, the multi-branched candlestick used in Jewish worship, in its logo for more than a decade. But a Toronto federal court will soon decide whether such use violates trademark law.
Chosen People Ministries teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) is challenging the ministry's right to use a menorah, calling it "deceptive" because the group is Christian, not Jewish.
"You can't be Jewish and be a Christian, because they are two separate religious identities," says Manuel Prutcschi, the CJC's national director of community relations. "This group is trying to lead people away from our faith by expropriating symbols of items that our community has used in worship since ancient times."
Prutcschi says CPM's view implies that "to be complete as a Jewish person you need to accept Jesus."
CPM, founded in 1894 by Hungarian Leopold Cohn, is establishing evangelistic efforts worldwide in 11 areas with high concentrations of Jews.
It works in the United States, Canada, Germany, Israel, and Ukraine. According to the latest government census, nearly half of Canada's 356,000 Jews live in Toronto.
CPM counters that its logo "is not inherently misleading" because the Christian faith grew out of Judaism. "We are Christian Jews who believe in planting churches," says Lawrence Rich, CPM's director in Canada.
"Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we are supposed to have the right to express our beliefs."
In late April the federal court in Toronto held an initial hearing on the case. But its ruling may not come for months.
"This case is about whether a religious group can self-define, or whether it must fit into another organization or group's definition," says Janet Epp Buckingham, director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's Center for Faith and Public Life. "The Canadian Jewish Congress wants to define who is Jewish.
"There is antagonism between the Jewish community and Messianic Jews," Buckingham says. "Messianic Jews in Montreal were barred burial at a Jewish cemetery nearly two years ago, but the Messianic family in question decided not to take legal action."
Stamping out 'intolerance'
Attorney Robert Kuhn of the Christian Legal Fellowship believes the trademark case is an instance of a campaign against perceived intolerance overcoming the Canadian commitment to freedom of religious expression.
"The underlying theme common to these cases seems to be that evangelism is akin to a denigration of other religions or [other] groups' identities," Kuhn says.
While CPM's case involves federal trademark law, other recent cases come under provincial hatemongering statutes.
Mark Harding, a controversial Christian evangelist, was convicted of hatemongering in 1998 for distributing anti-Islam pamphlets and calling Muslims in Toronto "raging wolves." An appeals court upheld the conviction in a December 2001 ruling. A judge sentenced Harding to community service and put him on probation.
The Surrey, British Columbia, school board has been accused of "inciting hate" against homosexuals. This month, Canada's Supreme Court will hear arguments that the board, responding to the objections of Christian parents, acted improperly by refusing to add three books in primary classrooms that depict homosexual couples.
Meanwhile, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Canada, in Calgary, Alberta, faces a defamation suit. The Jewish Congress, based in Ottawa, filed that suit, which began in provincial court on May 23. It claims the group's evangelistic literature echoes the ideas of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The ministry's official mission is to "unite Jewish believers in the Messiah and in the bond of love, fellowship, and prayer."
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The official Website for Chosen People Ministries offers more information about the organization.
The Canadian Jewish Congress Website has an archive of press releases and resources on various issues.
Related CJC press releases and news articles include:
CJC pleased with menorah case ruling—Canadian Jewish Congress (May 30, 2002)
Chosen People defends use of menorah as official mark—The Messianic Times
CJC Challenges Claim To Menorah As Christian Trademark—Canadian Jewish Congress (Jan. 7, 1999)
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