Church Wins in Vanuatu Decision
"None may trade in religious goods and services without the mark of approval from the world's great men." (paraphrase of Rev. 13:17)
The Waco Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist tragedy
and the Randy Weaver atrocity bare witness to the fact.
The chief justice of Vanuatu ruled, on September 19, in favor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church over a group based at the Pango church in Vanuatu. The Pango group had applied to register themselves as the Seventh-day Adventist Church of the republic of Vanuatu.
In his judgment, the chief justice, Charles d'Imecourt, said:
"1. I declare that the plaintiff church [the Seventh-day Adventist Church] is the true Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vanuatu.
"2. The defendants [the Pango group] and any of them are hereby restrained from using the plaintiff's name, whether it be Seventh-day Adventist Church, SDA Church, or Seventh-day Church, and or any similar variation thereof, in perpetuity. [bold emphases added at this site]
"3. The defendants shall pay the plaintiff's costs; such costs to be taxed or agreed."
Chief Justice d'Imecourt began his judgment (words within quotation marks are direct quotes from the judgment) with a brief history of the conflict, beginning with the application by the church to the Vanuatu commissioner of financial services, Julian Ala, to be "incorporated as a company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act" on December 19, 1995.
Mr. Ala wrote on March 21, 1996, advising that he had received "representations from two groups purporting to represent the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vanuatu." He requested a copy of the certificate of registration as a religious body from the church.
"On March 27, 1996, Mr. Ala wrote again that he would not proceed with any registration of any entities bearing the name Seventh-day Adventist church until the issue as to who is the true and correct user of the name is determined by the court."
After a description of the briefs given by the church and the Pango group, chief Justice d'Imecourt noted that evidence given by Pastors Calvyn Townend (president of the Western Pacific Union Mission) and Errol Wright (president of the Vanuatu Mission) "was not challenged and the defendants called no evidence. It was accepted that the plaintiffs did indeed represent the 'mother church' and that they themselves were a breakaway faction. Nor was it disputed that the plaintiff had great goodwill and commercial attractive force."
He noted that "the defendants merely submitted that the plaintiff's application had no legal basis" and relied upon the decision of the Court of Appeal in England, in a 1982 case, Kean v. McGivan. (In this appeal the decision to allow a small political party in England to use the name of another small political party founded two years earlier was upheld because there was "no trade in the widest meaning of the word; no commercial activity carried on.")
"That case merely turns on its own facts," said Chief Justice d'Imecourt, "and can be clearly distinguished from the present case."
He thanked the church's Vanuatu barrister (attorney), Susan Barlow, for her "helpful submissions" and referred to several cases he found of assistance in coming to his judgment.
He quoted from Lord Parker (United Kingdom) in a 1915 case: "I believe that the principle of law may be very simply stated, and that is, that nobody has any right to represent his goods as the goods of somebody else."
In another United Kingdom decision, in 1961, the Costa Brava Wine Company was not permitted to use the word "champagne" on its wines. The judge in that case said, "I think that Mr. Crylls and his company intended by using the name 'Spanish Champagne' to attract the goodwill connected with the reputation of 'champagne' to the Spanish product."
Chief Justice d'Imecourt said, "The word 'trade' or 'trader' has now come to have a very wide meaning, and persons involved in professional, literary, and artistic occupations have been included. The protection has also been extended to charitable and quasi-charitable organizations (whether incorporated or unincorporated), including churches, and precedents abound around the world."
He quoted from a case "very similar to the present case" in New South Wales involving a dispute between members of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East in Sydney. The judge said: "As a matter of general principle, I cannot see any reasons a religious organization should not have the same protection as to the goodwill in its name as is afforded by the law to commercial organizations. Surely, while religious organizations may not have ordinary commercial goodwill, they have something closely analogous thereto in that their reputation will be damaged by people falsely ascribing as an adjunct to them the organization which is holding itself out by a deceptively similar name."
Chief Justice d'Imecourt noted that the church is a "reputable worldwide organization" involved in charitable work benefiting vast numbers of people. "They have invested their time and money in charitable enterprises that have benefited and continue to benefit Vanuatu . . ..
"The defendants, on the other hand, are seeking to break away from the mother organization and seek to use the plaintiff's name or a very close resemblance of it, the only purpose of which, surely, is to benefit from the considerable goodwill and attractive (commercial) force in the name of the plaintiff church. This, in my view, would mislead the public into believing that they are one and the same organization."
He then commented that this could mean financial resources being taken from the church, which may cause the church to withdraw its help and assistance to Vanuatu.
"Like the learned judges in the case of Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church supra," said Chief Justice d'Imecourt, "I see no reason 'an element essentially indistinguishable from commercial goodwill should not be attributed to a charitable organization and be equally entitled to protection from the law.'"
Reprinted from the South Pacific Division Record, Oct. 5, 1996.
[All color emphases were added at this site.]
"There will be more and still more external parade by worldly powers. Under different symbols, God presented to John the wicked character and seductive influence of those who have been distinguished for their persecution of His people. The eighteenth chapter of Revelation speaks of mystic Babylon, fallen from her high estate to become a persecuting power. Those who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus are the object of the wrath of this power."
[Rev. 18:1-8 quoted] (MS 135, 1902).