It is also significant because Judge Berman also ruled that a reader of the pamphlet could reasonably see that Jews for Jesus was not asserting that Jackie Mason was a Jew for Jesus. He further ruled that Jews for Jesus did not look to gain any commercial benefit from the pamphlet. (To download and read the Judge’s eleven-page finding, click here.)
This decision is not a small victory, first because it rightly maintains that our gospel literature is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is also a victory because the claims Mason’s petition made when he asked the courts to prevent us from handing out the tract are the same claims that he’s made in the actual lawsuit.
Many of our tracts are written in the form of parody, using pop culture to establish a talking point for the gospel. From time to time, we are challenged with “lawyer letters” to cease and desist distributing them, even though they are protected speech. We have not been willing to back down on that which the Constitution protects and we hope this ruling will make others think twice about challenging our right to distribute religious literature.
There is a well-established principle in Scripture that God has set up government and given it the power of the sword for the purpose of dispensing justice on the earth (Romans 13:1-5). As Christians we should not be averse to availing ourselves of the legal system when needed, especially to secure our rights to proclaim the good news of the gospel. The Apostle Paul understood this when he appealed to Caesar in order to ensure his right to a fair trial as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11).
Some Christians expressed their concerns when this lawsuit was filed back in August. Some were quite upset that we would use Jackie Mason’s image without his permission because they thought it was unkind or hurtful. Some who were unfamiliar with the law worried that we were going to lose this case and destroy the mission of Jews for Jesus. In any case we did not want to be insensitive to these concerns but wanted to wait until the judge’s finding to explain certain things.
Jews for Jesus has frequently been the object of other people’s parody; after all, comedians and other writers and public commentators recognize that we exist and they have the right to make comments so long as those comments are not slanderous or otherwise illegal. Honestly, some of the good natured “shots” people take at Jews for Jesus simply help to raise the public’s awareness that there are Jews who believe in Jesus and it’s not a bad thing. We have been on both sides of parody and maybe we are just extremely thick-skinned, but being in other people’s cartoons or comedy routines or even being referred to in a humorous way in someone’s movie or TV show has not hurt our feelings or reputation. We never saw our broadside as anything that would hurt Jackie Mason.
In fact, the person who wrote the tract showed what we considered a very positive familiarity and respectful appreciation of Mason’s good-natured humor. To many of us Jews for Jesus, Jackie Mason is an icon who reminds us of our Yiddish-speaking grandfathers. We thought that he would appreciate our understanding of his humor and were surprised by this lawsuit. Nevertheless we felt we had to defend ourselves and are gratified by the court’s decision upholding our first amendment rights.
Nonetheless, the lawsuit slapped on us in August allowed us less than one day’s notice to appear in court to provide an answer. Consequently, we had to secure a law firm immediately at no small expense. Whereas we believe it unlikely there is any conspiracy to harass us and cost us legal fees, (Mr. Mason’s lawsuit asked for 4 million dollars in damages), we had little choice but to defend our freedom of speech if we are to keep on the cutting edge of direct evangelism.
Some who expressed concern were upset about the cost involved in defending against a lawsuit. Of course the most costly response would have been to pay the 4 million dollars Mr. Mason was seeking. Generally speaking, it is prudent for any organization like ours to set aside 1% of annual income to deal with legal concerns whether it be the reading of contracts or lawsuits like this one.
Though we had to pay a law firm to defend us in this particular case, we thank God for Matt Staver and the Liberty Counsel, and Rick Nelson and the American Liberties Institute which have taken a number of our first Amendment cases at no cost to us and have given us their best.
In the meantime, the coverage from this story provided more media exposure for our cause than we could have afforded. The fact that some Jews believe in Jesus, and the gospel message in the Mason tract, have been spread across the airwaves, throughout the newspapers into cyberspace and around the world. More people have been exposed to the issue as a result of Mr. Mason’s lawsuit. It certainly wasn’t part of our strategy but we can recognize how God is using it for His purposes, and for that we are grateful.
For the purposes of establishing peace, Jews for Jesus will seek to meet with Jackie Mason and his attorneys in hopes of ending this matter in a way that provides satisfaction for both parties. Please pray that we will be able to do this effectively. Mr. Mason has a history of being litigious. He previously sued the five organizations that select the Tony nominees for 25 million dollars, charging that their failure to consider him for his one-man Broadway show, “Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect,” constituted discrimination.
While Mason’s preliminary injunction has been denied, and the key arguments in his brief have been denied in the current ruling, a trial date is still set for November 16, 2006.