Updated 5/19/15: Today, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Norfolk, Virginia ruled unanimously to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the NAACP – a significant win for The Radiance Foundation and free speech rights. The original interview with Ryan Bomberger published on April 14, 2015 follows.
It would be ironic if it wasn’t tragic: A black man speaks out to protect the most crucial civil right Americans have – the right to life – and is sued by what is regarded as the nation’s largest civil rights group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ryan Bomberger is the chief creative officer of The Radiance Foundation, which he co-founded with his wife Bethany in 2009. Created to “inspire people to embrace their intrinsic value and live a life of meaning,” The Radiance Foundation was born out of his own redemptive story: a child conceived during rape, adopted early in life and now an adoptive parent himself.
Ryan and Bethany Bomberger with their family at March for Life 2015 (Photo: Robin Marty / Flickr)
In 2013, Bomberger wrote a Radiance Foundation op-ed exposing the NAACP’s pro-abortion position with the parody headline “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People” (a phrase obtained by research, as a court order bars him from saying it.) Soon after the article went live online, an NAACP lawyer sent Bomberger a letter accusing him of “trademark infringement.”
A court battle ensued, with the case recently heard at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The Radiance Foundation and Bomberger await the three judges’ verdict. He reveals why this case, centered on the right to free speech, matters for every American.
Bound4LIFE: How is it that the historically pro-black group NAACP came to sue you, an African-American man?
Ryan Bomberger: I wrote a news article, a Google alert came up and the NAACP saw the title to my article on LifeNews.com – where their name was parodied as I detailed their radical pro-abortion actions. According to them, they were incensed that someone would actually parody their name. This is how it all started.
Ryan Bomberger speaking at a Washington, DC event (Photo: Aaron Wong)
Bound4LIFE: Since this case has progressed, what have you learned about Americans’ right to free speech?
Ryan Bomberger: I have learned that apparently it’s conditional, and it seems to be conditional that a judge refer to actual law and the Constitution. This is the scariest part of all this: realizing that those invested with that kind of power can so selectively choose to perform their job based on the Constitution, which the job is rooted in.
It’s not just The Radiance Foundation that is being sued, it’s me personally. It’s scary to know that any multi-million dollar organization can sue someone without merit and get so far. This isn’t slander or libel. The article is all documented content on the NAACP’s pro-abortion position and actions. And the truth is – from Mark Twain to Saturday Night Live – America has a long tradition of parody as a form of free speech.
An American citizen is being harassed and dragged into a court of law, because a multi-million dollar organization saw something written they do not like.
Bound4LIFE: Why did Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU join your case with an amicus brief?
Ryan Bomberger: In their amicus brief, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) makes it very clear that they do not care for our ideological position. But they realize what we realize: that this isn’t about pro-life speech, this is about free speech.
We were actually shocked that they came to our defense. The ACLU has denounced us numerous times for our past campaigns; it is well-known that they are very pro-abortion. The ACLU even partners with the NAACP on numerous events.
But the ACLU does, once in a while, get things right. In their amicus brief, they realize the severe threat to the First Amendment and our right to free speech. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation’s defense is very clearly laid out and very understandable. We are very grateful.
Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: What was the substance of this latest hearing at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals?
Ryan Bomberger: Our lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom are very thorough. Chuck Allen, as a trademark attorney, understands the Lanham Act – which the NAACP is trying to use to crush our right to free speech.
He understands that the Lanham Act is to prevent actual trademark infringement, where you use someone’s trademark to try and confuse them into selling a similar product or a similar abuse or infringement of trademark.
People can listen to the 4th Circuit hearing on our website. It’s a surreal experience because you hear our lawyer clearly laying out that this is a news article. It’s non-commercial speech; just because of a Donate button on a non-profit’s page, it does not make it commercial speech. Otherwise, every charitable organization that happens to mention another organization’s name would then be violating the Lanham Act and infringing on someone’s trademark.
The NAACP’s defense, to me, reflects an organization that has such disdain for our actual civil rights. Their position is to take what is clearly a news article – an editiorial with social commentary – and pretend that it is not. They refuse to even refer to it as a news article. They call it a posting. That, to me, shows the difference in the defense.
I find it embarrassing that a civil rights organization like the NAACP would actually go so far to deny that something is protected speech. They have spent nearly a million dollars at this point; they are not going to give up. They will keep on pursuing this line of censorship – that’s what it really is.
Students listen in as Ryan Bomberger speaks in Washington, DC (Photo: The Radiance Foundation)
Bound4LIFE: A question came up early in the court hearing regarding the NAACP’s position on “reproductive choice” vs. abortion. How do you respond to the question that these are two completely distinct beliefs?
Ryan Bomberger: That argument in court would be relevant if people who fought for reproductive choice weren’t also fighting for the total legalization of abortion for all reasons. Those that fight for “reproductive choice” fight for abortion-on-demand without any restrictions. As a defense, it completely ignores history and ignores present-day activism.
Really it’s getting into semantics as to what do words mean. Does pro-choice mean abortion? Does reproductive freedom mean abortion? Does reproductive justice mean abortion? And of course, it all does. It all has to do with abortion.
Bound4LIFE: As pro-life advocates consider this case, how should people pray?
Ryan Bomberger: They really need to pray that truth and justice prevail. Pray that these three judges, who are charged with the awesome responsibility of looking at the evidence and the law, base their decision on that – not on ideology.
They need to pray that these judges are focused on what is true. That is all that really matters, because what is true is that we have a First Amendment. We have the right of freedom of expression, whether you are an organization or an individual. Pray toward that end.
But also pray for the NAACP. You are talking about an organization that I deeply respected when I was a kid and throughout college. But they have gone so far astray. People need to pray for redemption in that organization because where they are leading so many, to me, is just total destruction.
Ryan Bomberger speaks at OneVoiceDC on January 21, 2015 (Photo: Aaron Wong / Capital Life Church)
Bound4LIFE: In recent weeks, you also appeared at a United Nations panel alongside some very diverse groups. How did your views on defending pre-born lives contrast with others?
Ryan Bomberger: There was such a contrast among the six panelists. There were three that were pro-homosexuality and pro-abortion; and three groups that were pro-natural family and pro-life. There was a huge chasm.
To hear Marianne Mollmann from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission say, “We can’t study what the unborn child is” was funny to me because she is acknowledging the baby in the womb is a child. You had the pro-abortion side dancing around the issue of abortion, but making such bizarre statements.
This is what happens when you have an ideology that is so rooted in emotion, devoid of all evidence.
Photo: United Nations / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: As one who works in creative media and knows today’s plugged-in generation, what do you believe the pro-life movement needs to emphasize more?
Ryan Bomberger: I think the pro-life movement has done a great job on showing the science. The science has been presented well, but we need to shift how it’s been communicated.
There are powerful stories: of mothers whose lives turned around after choosing life, of babies adopted who went on to create for the common good (like Steve Jobs). I don’t think the pro-life movement has been as effective as it could be in communicating these deeply personal stories.
On the left and the pro-abortion side, they are all about communicating the stories and I think they do that well. The pro-life movement needs to do a better job of telling true stories and infusing these stories with the evidential, with the statistics, with the history – a comprehensive approach that makes it powerful.
But it’s hard. How do you outshout a movement on the left that is so well-funded and actually pays people to shout for them? There are so many that just shout these mantras and re-tweet bumper sticker lines, and don’t really think beyond that.
When you have the pro-life movement that is as bold as it is and as underfunded as it is – thank the Lord that we have more on our side! It really is miraculous that the pro-life movement has been able to break through, hold on and reach this culture the way we have been.
As pro-life advocates, we have the emotional and we have the evidential; we need to present both as confidently as we can.
Editor’s note: On the evening of Friday, May 8, Ryan Bomberger will share insights as guest speaker at the Justice House of Prayer DC (details here).