I am writing to you from an airplane, on my way home from New York City where I met with Jackie Mason, Judge Berman, and our attorneys.
In case you don’t know the background for this story, Jews for Jesus staff member Rich Robinson wrote a humorous broadside-tract entitled Jackie Mason…a Jew for Jesus?!” We used it in New York City this past summer. Two months after we began distributing this tract, we were slapped with a four million dollar lawsuit by Jackie and his celebrity attorney, Raoul Felder. In the past, any party that objected to being the subject of parody or public commentary in our gospel tracts sent a letter requesting that we “cease and desist” distribution. Mr. Mason simply filed a lawsuit, informing the media rather than informing us. I learned of it when the press called asking for comment. We had no recourse but to defend ourselves in court.
The judged ruled in our favor on Mr. Mason’s motion for a preliminary injunction. This meant he refused to prohibit us from handing out the tract prior to trying the case in court. It was most encouraging that the judge’s ruling disallowed every argument for the injunction, since those were the same arguments Mason’s attorneys had used in the actual suit. The judge said that:
- Our pamphlet was constitutionally protected speech
- No one reading the pamphlet would reasonably conclude that we had said that Jackie Mason was actually a Jew for Jesus, and
- Jews for Jesus did not seek to gain financially in any way by publishing and distributing the pamphlet.
The court’s ruling was a significant victory. Anyone familiar with our Jews for Jesus broadsides knows that many of them make references to pop culture, utilizing parody and social commentary. These broadsides have been successful in engaging unbelievers and seekers and are a staple of our evangelistic strategy. The judge’s ruling established a precedent that will help to head off any future challenges to our freedom of speech. For that we are thankful.
Nevertheless, the ruling did not make Mason’s lawsuit disappear. The judge asked the parties to attempt to settle and avoid a full-blown trial. What’s more, Jesus admonished His followers to “settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court…” (Matthew 5:25) I flew to New York to try to do just that. Mr. Mason did not seem prepared to withdraw his lawsuit though he offered to settle for a large sum of money, to be donated to charity. The judge had ruled in our favor and it would have been poor stewardship to pay in order to make the suit go away.
Yet, we were not eager to go to trial. While we felt confident that eventually we would win, the cost would be high. The most the trial would do for us would be to reinforce what the judge had already decided in our favor. I talked it over with Moishe Rosen, who advised me to write a letter to Mr. Mason that would provide him some satisfaction and a gracious way to drop the suit, while not undermining the impact of the court’s decision in our favor. With input from my colleagues, here is the letter I came up with:
“Dear Mr. Mason:
I’m writing this letter to convey my sincere apologies for any distress that you felt over our tract, “Jackie Mason, A Jew For Jesus?” To me, and most of our Jews for Jesus staff, you project an image of a loving, caring, and wise Jewish grandfather. We appreciate your broad knowledge and your feeling for all things Jewish.
While the publishing of the evangelistic tract which featured you was one of hundreds of evangelistic pamphlets we regularly write and distribute as an expression of our religious beliefs, and therefore is protected by our Constitution, we are willing in the interest of ahavat yisroel and shalom to retire this particular evangelistic tract.
Please accept our sincere good wishes for a Happy Hanukkah and a happy, healthy New Year.
(Ahavat yisroel means “love of Israel”, and is a call for unity among the Jewish people.)
When I showed the letter to the judge in his chambers he remarked with some surprise, “This is a most gracious letter.” And after speaking to Mr. Mason and encouraging him to agree to our offer the judge told me, “If more people who came into my court acted as reasonably as you have today I would be able settle far more cases than I do.”
Mr. Mason accepted our offer and the case was dismissed. (Yes, we have retired that particular pamphlet. Honestly, we didn’t have plans to distribute it much after our campaign this summer anyway.) The judge read my letter aloud from the bench and attached it to the notice of dismissal of Mr. Mason’s suit.
So we have established an important precedent with the court, and were able to resolve the conflict amicably. Praise the Lord!
Of course members of the press were in the courtroom that day. While there was perhaps some “spin” to Mr. Mason’s advantage, I am pleased with the resolution of the dispute. You can see how the media reported it here: and here, and if you search the Internet for “Jews for Jesus Jackie Mason” you are bound to find many more. This gospel tract took on a life of its own through newspapers, television and the Internet. As a result, many more people saw the tract and heard the message than would have through the simple work of our missionaries handing it out on the streets of New York. Anytime “Jews for Jesus” is in the news and on people’s blogs, more people have an opportunity to see that there are Jews who believe in Him.
Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I am thankful for Moishe Rosen’s wise counsel that helped me to do what these verses teach. I am grateful to all of you who prayed for us for God’s help and wisdom in dealing with this matter. So to all of you, God bless you, have a happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year.