Community of Christ (COC) wins dispute over RLDS name?

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Independence, Missouri (MMD Newswire) May 11, 2009 -- Not so, according to the 30 members of the Devon Park Restoration Branch, that proclaims the original doctrines of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS).

Devon Park says it is entitled to use the RLDS name to identify its church and the religious doctrines followed by its members and asserts that the COC began abandoning the RLDS name in 2001 when it changed the name of its organization to Community of Christ. Devon Park questions the COC's legal claim to trademark ownership, and says they no longer follow the original doctrines of the RLDS faith.

On April 23, 2009, U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner granted the COC a "preliminary injunction," temporarily directing Devon Park to stop using the RLDS name until the lawsuit is resolved. The COC holds the federally registered trademarks. Further proceedings will resolve whether Devon Park has the right to use the RLDS marks as it had been doing for over 21 years.

Even though the COC has identified its new name as the word of God and has canonized it by placing it in the organization's Doctrine and Covenants as a divine decree, the COC nevertheless filed a trademark infringement suit against Devon Park and its Pastor David McLean last year for continuing to use the RLDS name on its sign and for having the RLDS flag and seal in its sanctuary.

Devon Park has fully complied with the court order by covering up the RLDS name on its sign, by covering up the seal in its sanctuary and by removing the church flag. These RLDS marks are held precious to Devon Park's members because they represent the original doctrines of the church.

The dispute arises out of the fact that the COC has not only taken on a new name but is actively abandoning the RLDS marks. "The COC is a new organization with different beliefs, doctrines and hierarchal structure", said Elder James Noland, a member of the Devon Park branch. "The COC no longer adheres to the original theological or religious doctrine established by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830, and defined in the Reorganized Church by his son Joseph Smith III."

According to Elder Noland, Judge Fenner's conclusion that "the COC was likely to prevail on the merits and had, among other things, established a likelihood of confusion" is only true in the sense that it is the COC who is creating the confusion about its identity. The public may well be totally confused about the COC. Is it a new church? Is it a community? Is it a denomination? What is it? Will it continue to change its beliefs and doctrines?

Devon Park believes that, when all the relevant facts are pulled together and considered under the federal trademark law, two things will become clear: First, the RLDS marks represent a set of doctrines and beliefs that were established by Joseph Smith, Jr., and defined by Joseph Smith III, and followed by Devon Park and other like-minded Restoration Branches; Doctrines abandoned in many ways by the organization today known as the COC. Second, the COC no longer seeks to be known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) and truly has abandoned the RLDS marks.

Devon Park and its members remain hopeful that they eventually will be able to resume use of the RLDS marks to: Save their name - Save their heritage - Save their identity.

This action against Devon Park is the second time the Community of Christ has sued a small group of members for trademark infringement. Last year the South Restoration Branch in Raytown, Missouri received an injunction, also issued by Judge Fenner.

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