I’d never once thought about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office until I started following The Slants’ lawsuit against the federal agency. I imagine most Americans haven’t either—even now. Despite the fact that I write about politics for a living, it’s nearly impossible for me to keep track of our government’s growing bureaucracy, and all the powers various agencies invest in themselves.
Thankfully on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal trademark law banning any names deemed “offensive” by a bored or power-hungry bureaucrat was unconstitutional. It’s amazing that such an issue even needed to be litigated, and it’s even more amazing that the individuals who helped save free speech in this country were a relatively unknown all-Asian American punk rock band fighting the federal government about their band name deemed offensive to…Asian Americans. To be clear, the basic function of the federal agency is important — trademarks and copyrights are important and necessary features of our economy.
There’s no doubt that this 70-year-old law giving veto power to the USPTO came with good intentions. At the end of the day, if you were to ask a random American if he thought a group of imbeciles who demanded the federal government grant protection to their weekly club named “The N-Word Haters,” the Average Joe would likely say that’s a waste of resources and tax dollars.
The Constitutional protects every bozo from naming his inane club whatever he wants (and yes, the government has to recognize it, thanks to this latest Supreme Court ruling). But the issue over The Slants trademarking their band name isn’t about the government allowing minority groups to exercise the same consumer choices with dignity as white Americans, like the Civil Rights Act granted in 1964.
Instead this latest litigation is a consequence of an era where the latest generation of federal employees are armed with gender studies and sociology degrees from institutions that house professors obsessed with diversity and a perverted definition of tolerance. The traditional parameters of acceptable speech have become so warped that in less than 100 years, we’ve gone from debating whether restaurants can racially discriminate against patrons to whether the United Nations can arrest me for cooking a burrito.
The same college students who throw a hissy fit when the dining hall sushi isn’t good enough will soon be given jobs in government with the power of the police state to enforce their interpretations of federal statues. That should terrify you.
While society granted the state reasonable power in the 20th century to force private businesses to serve individuals of all backgrounds, there’s no guarantee that in a future society, those powers will remain reasonable. If anything, contemporary society seems to be on a trajectory of unreason.
It’s a cliche at this point, but remains true: It’s not overnight, tyrannical change that gives the most fear to people worried about big government. Rather, our rights get corroded slowly through unaccountable agencies that Americans have never even heard of, like the USPTO.
With Americans growing further apart on an agreement over what constitutes “racism” or whether speech can equal violence, one must recognize the importance of a federal judiciary that recognizes the inflexibility of the First Amendment.
Yet the fact that The Slants had to spend money and time fighting this case to begin with is enough to make one uneasy. Not every free speech battle can be a cause célèbre, which is why it’s more important than ever to demand accountability from federal agencies.
Until then, The Slants’ legal victory is just a small one in a long war against an abusive state.