Leader of Ultra-Christian College Threatens to Sue Student-Run LGBT Blog… Then Changes His Mind

Believe it or not, there are LGBT groups at Christian colleges. They’re underground, online, and *very* anonymous. The schools would expel the students in a heartbeat… if only they knew who they were.

You can ask why the students go to these schools in the first place, but they found a way to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith, and who are we to question the logic of religious people…? (I kid, I kid…)

Anyway, even Patrick Henry College — the school an undercover German reporter recently investigated — has some gay students.

They have a website and Facebook group that have been up and running since last summer.

And the school’s Chancellor, Michael Farris, is furious about it.

Over the weekend, Farris sent a message to Queer at Patrick Henry College:

“This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.

Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.”

The owners of the group weren’t about to back down, considering Farris didn’t have much of a case — the school’s name can’t be copyrighted (PDF) and the students aren’t doing anything wrong:

… our message is intrinsically tied to the name Patrick Henry College. We are students of Patrick Henry College. We share about our experiences at Patrick Henry College. We reach out to other students at Patrick Henry College. The demand that we stop using the school’s name is really a thinly disguised demand that we shut up.

One of the bloggers also told New York Magazine:

Despite the college’s claims that they foster open dialogue on tough issues, their first response on this has been to attempt to bully and censor us through the misapplication of copyright and trademark laws. We find that incredibly disappointing.”

(Really? You go to Patrick Henry College and this is what you find disappointing? We need to have a long talk…)

Sorry. Where was I.

It seems like after the magazine called Farris for comment, he realized he had made a huge mistake. So, without apologizing, he took back his threat:

“After further consultation, I withdraw my note from yesterday. While we believe in the inappropriate nature of the use of our trademarked name, we believe that litigation is not appropriate.”

Aww… isn’t that sweet of him? Admitting that “litigation is not appropriate” instead of telling the truth and saying, “I have no case”? (Maybe Farris deserves some credit for writing a few sentences without invoking the Bible. That had to be difficult for him.)

There is a positive note in all of this. The Streisand Effect has kicked in. Even though the QueerPHC blog is blocked on campus — you know the filters are in full force — you can bet students are talking about it. Maybe some of them will even leave their bubble for a moment and realize what sort of lengths LGBT students have to go to so they don’t get caught, all because of the homophobic brainwashing that takes place at schools like Patrick Henry College and the churches that share their mindset.

(Thanks to Ed for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

    *sighs*  People just do NOT understand copyright and trademark laws, do they?  And Mr. Farris?  Copyright and trademark are two different things, you can’t just claim them randomly like that.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

      Yeah, if only Farris had some minor legal training, he might’ve known that…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Henry_College
      “Chancellor Mike Farris has a J.D., has authored several novels and critiques of constitutional law, and has argued numerous cases before federal and state high courts”

      *headdesk*

      • Baal

         *jaw drop* 
        I don’t expect non-IP attorneys (and even they specialize) or anyone to get copyright/trademark right but this guy should know better.  He should also know that mere use of the words of the name isn’t necessarily a trademark violation either.  He would still be wrong but should point to a student code of conduct or something similar if he had any thing like a reasonable basis for legal bullying of the LGBT students.

        • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

          Exaclty!  Especially since one has to actually register a Trademark to be able to claim it, and the official government definition of a Trademark is- (from http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/trade_defin.jsp )
          A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.Goods.  As in, sellable product.  How can a college be officially Trademarked (unless they’re selling a specific brand of college degree)?

          • mobathome

            @Tyrrlin Flamestrike That is indeed what they are selling.  I don’t know of another kind of respectable college degree.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/2EYBLEUSESORY2IUUQNP67LIMA Sarah

         Maybe if he was a member of the Virginia State Bar and could actually practice law in VA….

  • smrnda

    On why these students are at these schools, something I’ve learned is that many parents push their kids to attend conservative, religious schools, so the students aren’t always there totally by choice.

    And yeah, totally open to dialog on tough issues, as long as it’s one way and the school’s party line is agreed with by all parties in advance. 

  • LifeinTraffic

    In regards to how LBGT students reconcile their faith with their homosexuality, the truth is they often haven’t, and aren’t trying to do so.  Some kids have little or no choice where they attend college, at least if they want or need help from their parents. This is pretty common at Liberty U, even for straight young men and women–many don’t necessarily want to be there, but that is where their parents said they had to go if they wanted any help with tuition.

    Also, Liberty offers completely free college to many students for various reasons (if you come from certain Christian schools, etc.). For some, this is the best shot at college they have. Many parents work at Liberty expressly so they can afford to have their children get some college education. I am not saying Liberty is a great college–it’s not. But, for many it is a huge step up from not being able to afford college at all. I am making the assumption that many other Xtian colleges work in a similar way regarding tuition.

    So, I think it’s important not to ridicule LBGT students for their “illogical” thinking, because it very well may not be their thinking at all. Are there some students who are gay and have found a way to reconcile the glaring conflict with a conservative Xtian faith? I am sure there are. But, at least from what I’ve seen living by Liberty U, there are likely just as many (if not more) that aren’t that illogical.

    • Daniel

      Exactly the point I was going to make.  I have an agnostic lesbian friend who was told by her parents that she would be attending a small, conservative, single sex Christian college or nothing (she was closeted at the time or they may have rethought part of that).  She was happily surprised to discover that she was not even remotely the only “rebellious” lesbian sent there.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        I do wonder what goes through these parents minds. When they’re all old and decrepit, they’re going to be completely fucked when their kids get to choose their care home.

        • smrnda

           I’m sure the parents will never be able to see themselves as possibly at fault; it’s because the evil secular world has corrupted their kids.

        • The Other Weirdo

           Because parents send kids to good colleges in the hope of a reward in the endoflife, and because all kids who are screwed over by their parents for one reason or another invariably hate them and always try to exact their revenge in the endoflife. Yes, that must be it.

        • the moother

          I am The Moother and I approve this message.

  • http://twitter.com/nomadico Tim Raveling

    I actually went to this university, became an atheist, and got expelled for it. Fortunately for me, I was paying my own way (by working for the university’s tech department), and was easily able to find a job after being fired at the same time. I can see what @LifeinTraffic:disqus means, though — had I not been financially independent, and had I been depending on my degree from PHC to give me a career, I may have easily been trapped in an institution I was fundamentally at odds with.

    I also think a lot of us went into places like this really believing the whole line — republican politics, young-earth creationism, the impending return of Jesus and the apocalypse, etc., etc. Our entire social structures and cultural identities are bound up in it, and leaving that isn’t as simple as just realizing the problems from an intellectual standpoint.

    I’m very happy with my decision to leave both PHC and religion, but there was definitely a lot of turmoil involved, which I’m still working through. If anyone here is interested in my perspective, I’m currently writing about my process of leaving on my own blog, Good and Lost. You can read the first post of that story here: http://goodandlost.org/2012/08/29/past-is-prologue-part-i/

    Anyways, I see these students’ change as a first step. Whether they move beyond that is, I suppose, up to them.

  • Tim

    There is no copyright in a name.  It is too unsubstantial to qualify as a work.  US and UK courts have both rejected attempts to claim copyright in names such as “Exxon”, or song titles such as “the man who broke the bank in montecarlo”.

    There might be a trademark in a name, but that will usually only be infringed if used “in the course of trade” and not purely discriptively. 

    • http://twitter.com/DuaeQuartunciae Chris Ho-Stuart

       … which, ironically, is just as well for “Patrick Henry” college!

  • http://sarah-whoiamwithoutyou.blogspot.com/ Sarah’s Journey

    I’m a girl. I was 17 when parents gave me the choice to either attend PHC or stay home untill i got married. Living at home meant having no rights and living in constant servitude and deference. I ran as fast as i could.
    There are lots of kids with zero life experience trapped at PHC with no knowledge or assistance to help them escape. Stiking out on your own is considered rebellion, and that means losing everything and everyone youve ever known.For kids like these, there arent really alot of options.

    • Tainda

      That makes me sad

  • Thomas Herrera Jr

    you obviously have little understanding of PHC -__-. admin =/= SB…

  • The Other Weirdo

    This is a wildly judgement post of people–kids–you know nothing about. Very disappointing.

  • Chakolate

    I don’t know about Patrick Henry College (and I’m too lazy to look it up) but sometimes these religious schools are cheaper than secular schools.  If you can stand the environment, you can get an education for cheaper.  

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/2EYBLEUSESORY2IUUQNP67LIMA Sarah

       no, it’s pretty pricey: (from their website)
      he annual cost of educating a full-time on-campus student at
      Patrick Henry College for the 2012-2013 academic year is over $40,000
      per student, not including room and board. This is much more than our stated tuition price of $24,352.

  • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

    In reference to ‘why students would go there,’ it’s as simple as having religious parents.  The reasons parents send their kids to private christian school often translates to college, especially if the parents are the type of evangelical that thinks a ‘rebellious’ kid is one who starts questioning.

    Things like car, food, housing are also costs involved of going to college on one’s own, so plenty of people who are nonbelievers are forced to go to religious schools out of practicality.

  • NoBlinders

    For someone who calls himself a “friendly atheist” this post sure is laced with a lot of hatred and ridicule. Also, linking this article to that German article completely destroys your credibility, Mr. Mehta. The German article is Exhibit A in the gallery of shoddy journalism and much of Ms. Coen’s narrative is easily proven false by simply browsing the PHC website.