By BTL Staff
SAN FRANCISCO – Citing First Amendment protection for parodies, the American Civil Liberties Union has come to the successful defense of a California man who received a cease-and-desist letter after posting a parody of a billboard advertisement for the self-styled Christian group Exodus International’s so-called “reparative therapy” on his website.
The Exodus billboard read, “Gay? Unhappy?” and included the group’s Web site address. After seeing a photo of the billboards online, Justin Watt, a blogger from Santa Rosa, Calif., posted an altered version reading, “Straight? Unhappy? http://www.gay.com” on his website, http://Justinsomnia.org.
“The moment I saw the billboards last September, I was deeply offended. The inspiration for the parody I created came to me instantly. How would straight people feel if their very being, their sense of self was being so overtly disparaged?” Watt said. “Their response was to try to intimidate me into taking the image down. It’s troubling that an organization as big as Exodus would go to such great lengths to silence its critics.”
Liberty Counsel, an anti-gay legal group representing Exodus, sent Watt a cease-and-desist letter earlier this month claiming the parody violated Exodus’s intellectual property rights and threatening legal action if the parodies were not removed. In response the ACLU’s cooperating attorney, Laurence Pulgram of Fenwick & West, LLP, called upon Exodus to drop its attempts to censor Watt.
Parody is protected by the first amendment.
According to a March 23 USA Today report, Exodus President Alan Chambers said that his organization would no longer be pursuing the matter.
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and other mainstream mental health and medical groups have denounced reparative therapy, stating that there is no evidence that reparative therapy is successful and that the practice may in fact be harmful to those who undergo it.