If This Be Censorious Asshattery, Let Michael Farris Make The Most Of It

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22 Responses

  1. Kristin M says:

    This is the problem with religious institutions attempting to use the law to enforce the beliefs students are expected to hold. And its not just colleges. I attended a religious high school and the student code included a provision that students could be expelled for "encouraging" abortion. "Encouraging" was further explained to be pretty much anything that could be construed as pro-choice. Saying, "I'm pro-choice" on school property was "encouraging" abortion and grounds for explusion. Fortunately, I never witnessed the provision be enforced.

    But seriously, lawsuits? For having an intellectual conversation? Shouldn't schools – whether high school or college – be THRILLED that the students are intelligent and engaged enough to think critically? Isn't that a sign that their institution has actually provided at least some of the education they claim to impart?

  2. Mike says:

    Interesting. His page lists him as Chancellor of PHC and General Counsel of the Home School Legal Defense Fund.

    His Facebook post was ambiguous, but it sure could be read as him preparing to bring litigation on behalf of PHC against the group. If so, that could put him in some tension with Virginia Rule of Professional Conduct 4.1, with some wiggle room on the issue of knowingly making a false statement of law. (Although if you're at the point of taking legal steps to seek removal, you probably should have a duty to know copyright law.)

    That's all idle speculation, and broadly speaking I'm against invoking the RPC as cudgels, especially in a no-harm-no-foul situation like this — well, there was harm, but only well-deserved harm to the Chancellor's reputation. But it's a little food for thought anyway, and a threat of this kind might just make the good Chancellor a little slower to make legal threats in the future, or might make him be more clear about the capacity he makes them in.

  3. Waldo says:

    I read his message as a thinly disguised threat to uncover the identity of the bloggers and then discipline them via the student honor code. He knew from the start that the litigation itself was meritless. Good on the students to seek good legal assistance, and praise to Public Assistance for stepping in. I will give Harris some credit however. Unlike Carrreon and the isanybodyup guy, he knew when he held a losing hand and immediately threw in the cards rather than doubling down.

  4. Gendou says:

    Is this the same guy who used to work for the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund?

    EDIT: Apparently still does!

  5. In other words, Farris decided that though he was offended, he'd have to overlook it?

  6. Tali McPike says:

    And to think, once upon a time I wanted to go to that school. I ended up at Ave Maria University instead, which, despite its flaws (which every private religious institution has) has never done anything THAT stupid. The closest its come to something like that is reprimanding a student for creating a facebook page criticizing another student (who happened to be gay, which was not really the issue, but the student being criticized tried to make it that), that was criticizing the university by saying things like "I heard if you openly disagree with the administration, you can loose your scholarship" to a local news station. And the school would have probably left the creator of the facebook page alone if the local news hadn't picked it up on the story and ran with it

  7. naught_for_naught says:

    Patrick Henry…Isn't that the guy who said, "This mutton is tough"?

  8. Jonathan says:

    And good luck getting discovery from Facebook directly. See here, for instance: http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v24/24HarvJLTech563.pdf.

    Only a few ways to get Facebook information in litigation, and 3rd-party subpoena isn't one of them.

  9. AlphaCentauri says:

    His webpage says he's written a textbook on constitutional law. That might be a hoot.

  10. Deadly Laigrek says:

    And this is why I go to a public institution (go CSU Rams!). They can't punish me for saying whatever I damn well please.

  11. David says:

    So…when you hear that cry in the sky, you'll know it's Public Citizen!

  12. Josh C says:

    Err, the blog name is "Queer at Patrick Henry College". Appropriating a mark for an entire site seems a little outside of identifying pages where that mark is the subject matter. I'm pretty sure that if there were to have been a real area of confusion though, "God and Man at Yale" et al. would have thoroughly tested it, but it still seems a bit murkier than you describe.

    More seriously though: I could not disagree with you more. It should be easy, painless, and face-saving to withdraw a threat like that. We all benefit when it is. Having made an ill considered threat, if a bumpkin is unable to revoke/rewind/retract, he's much more likely to seek vindication, which hurts everyone.

    Everyone has bad days. Farris screwed up, yes. But he also backed off instead of doubling down. If you want to encourage that reaction, conduct yourself in a manner which encourages that reaction.

  13. Caleb says:

    @ Josh C

    Having made an ill considered threat, if a bumpkin is unable to revoke/rewind/retract, he's much more likely to seek vindication, which hurts everyone.

    You have to balance this consideration with deterring the making of the ill considered threat in the first place. If it is quick, easy, and cheap to revoke a meritless legal threat at the first sign of trouble, then certius paribus we well have more meritless legal threats.

  14. Colin says:

    Jesus H. Christ!

    This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College.

    IT IS CALLED TRADEMARK YOU ILLITERATE DOUCHEBAG! YOU CAN'T COPYRIGHT A NAME!

    Geez. When will people learn. If you're going to send threatening cease-and-desist letters, please, at least get your damn legal terms correct.

  15. Ken says:

    @Josh C:

    I'd be inclined to agree — God knows I have stupid days — if the retraction were worded differently. But as worded, it suggests he still thinks he's legally right, and has just decided that litigation isn't the right vehicle. That's not right.

  16. NL7 says:

    Copyright and trademark are not interchangeable. One protects expressive works and the other protects names. His casual switching suggests a big bluff. Their name would be a trademark, not a copyright.

  17. AlphaCentauri says:

    And IANAL, but my understanding is that the use of a trademark is protected only to the extent that it might be confusing. No one is confusing "Queer at Patrick Henry College" for an official branch of the institution, just as no one would mistake Patrick Henry College as actually having anything to do with the people whose ideas fomented the war of American independence.

  18. oldnumberseven says:

    So, did Patrick Henry found this school, or did the school steal his name to spruce the place up? Henry should have trademarked his name, I suppose.

  19. FredWithABackwardsF says:

    Nice to see someone else got the Super Chicken ref. Thanks for the nostalgia trip, Ken!

  20. Connie says:

    @Ken – The last paragraph of this article is beautifully written and I may have to proudly quote it somewhere. Bravo, sir.

  21. Steve Florman says:

    He may be a censorious asshat a lot of the time (and something of a pompous windbag to boot), but the HSLDA has done some really good work in keeping state governments and their Education Departments from harassing homeschool families, Christian and secular alike.

  22. "[B]ut the HSLDA has done some really good work in keeping state governments and their Education Departments from harassing homeschool families, Christian and secular alike." Why do I get the feeling that the HSLDA would rather metaphorically burn off their testicles then lift a finger to help an atheist.