Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Religion is the ultimate false advertising. Let's SUE.

(Originally posted by Pat on 7/5/10)

Religious organizations around the world are clearly guilty of false advertising as defined by law.
They make representations that the advertiser has no reasonable basis to believe.
They engage in unfair and deceptive practices.
The statements they make actually deceive a large portion of the target audience.
I think the best target would be the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is a recognized, respected religious authority closely affiliated with the Holy See in Vatican City, but is also registered as a privately owned nonprofit corporation in the United States.
In short, I want to sue the Catholic Church for false advertising that has affected 800 million people. Many of us have worried that the Umich SSA hasn't done enough to really advocate for secularism; well, now is our chance.

If we actually succeeded in winning a judgment against the Catholic Church, this would be a major coup for the secular  community. Overnight it could change the way religion is dealt with in the United States. Of course, the courts could rule that it isn't false advertising, even though it clearly is---simply because the courts, like US society generally, are rather friendly to religion.
But I think we should try. I think the publicity alone would raise a great deal of consciousness, even if no actual damages were collected.
We should structure this as a class-action suit to maximize impact. Each of us may only win a small settlement, but if there are thousands of plaintiffs, the Church will actually be hurt, and the publicity will have a significant impact. This could be a money-making venture for the plaintiffs, though I don't think that should be the primary reason. Depending on how much I won, I would probably give most of it to charity anyway, probably either UNICEF or the Richard Dawkins Foundation, though I've also considered Kiva because microfinance donations can, once repaid, be re-lent as well.
These are the challenges we face:
  1. We need to get a law firm to represent us in the case. It will need to be a firm with nationwide expertise in pleading false-advertising cases and a willingness to continue to the Supreme Court, but also willing to engage religion head-on. Basically we need atheists with substantial law experience.
  2. We need to ensure that we have standing to sue. The easiest way to reject the case would be to deny us standing. All the plaintiffs, therefore, should be atheists who were raised Catholic and can show how this caused them harm. That for me is easy: I was circumcised, which is physical mutilation; my sexual orientation was demonized, which constitutes emotional abuse; and Catholicism was a significant factor in triggering my major depressive disorder, which is a clinically-recognized disability.
  3. We need money to pay for court costs, unless the firm is willing to represent us on contingency. The US court system is horrifyingly expensive, and without substantial funding the project will not succeed. We should look for funding from secular lobbying organizations, like the Secular Coalition for America.
It's an ambitious undertaking. We may not succeed. But the law on the books is clearly on our side.
Now it's time to see if the US court system can put is money where its mouth is.

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