COVENANT IN COURT: Appeals Court rules in favor of Orthodox Bahá’ís

Posted on October 2, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Court of Appeals for the United States Seventh Circuit issued its ruling on November 23, 2010, in the appeal brought by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States (“Wilmette NSA”).  The Wilmette NSA brought the appeal after losing to the Orthodox Bahá’ís in the trial court on the NSA’s motion to find the OBF in contempt for allegedly violating the 1966 Judgment entered against the Remey NSA.  The trial court found, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, that the OBF was not legally identified with the Remey NSA and therefore the OBF was not bound by the 1966 Judgment.  In effect, the OBF may continue to use the sacred symbols and names of their faith, including the word “Bahá’í” unless and until a court decides otherwise.

For more information:

Here is a breaking news article:

[Updated 18 May 2009]: The action by the NSA finally gets the attention of the press.  Click here for information about the Chicago Tribune’s article about the action pending in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, Illinois.  The appeal was brought by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States (NSA), located in Wilmette, Illinois, after it lost its contempt motion against members of the Orthodox Bahá’í Faith

[Revised 28 February 2009] The parties are awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, Illinois in the appeal brought by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States (NSA), located in Wilmette, Illinois, after it lost its contempt motion against members of the Orthodox Bahá’í Faith and the Bahá’ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant, which are two separate and distinct entities.

The NSA had called upon the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division to hold in contempt members of both minority Bahá’í organizations who, the NSA claimed, were in violation of an injunction its predecessor obtained some 40 years ago against a rival Bahá’í body (the NSA loyal to Mason Remey).

In legal documents provided to the court on December 6, 2006, the NSA claimed that members of the current minority Bahá’í groups, although not parties to the case brought against the NSA loyal to Mason Remey, nevertheless are bound by the 1966 Judgment.  While not providing any specifics with regard to how the minority bodies have harmed the majority body, the NSA contended that the websites (including this one) of the smaller organizations were doing irreparable damage to the NSA.

The basic contention of the NSA was that the members of the minority groups were violating the NSA’s alleged trademarks on the name “Bahá’í” and the religious symbol of the “Greatest Name”, and it sought from the court a ruling which would prohibit the minority members from using the alleged trademarks to the detriment of the NSA.

The NSA sought to restrain both those individuals who at one time were even remotely associated with the enjoined rival Bahá’í body and any ‘nonparty’ members who have since developed different Bahá’í organizations.

Those members of the minority group who call themselves  Orthodox Bahá’ís, to distinguish themselves from the members of the majority organization, stated that the trademark by the Wilmette NSA on the “Greatest Name” is the equivalent of a Christian denomination trademarking the Cross and then saying that no other Christian congregation can use that symbol in their activities or in their contacts with others.

Additionally, Orthodox Bahá’ís maintain that the name “Bahá’í” is in the public domain and cannot be the exclusive property of one organization. They say that like the name “Christian” and “Muhammadan”, which refer to followers of Christ and Muhammad respectively, the name “Bahá’í” refers to a follower of Bahá’u’lláh, who all Bahá’ís acknowledge as the latest Prophet from God.

For some 35 years the Orthodox Bahá’ís have been employing the name “Bahá’í” in their newspaper and magazine publicity and in the telephone Yellow Pages, and during that time the NSA has made no move to implement the provisions of the injunction that the majority organization is now using to seek contempt citations against members of the minority groups. Should the NSA be successful in its efforts to curtail their activities, Orthodox Bahá’ís contend that, for them, the First Amendment of the Constitution is no longer valid.

The NSA on 23 May 2008 filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Chicago Trial January 7, 2008 005 Seventh Circuit of a ruling that the Orthodox Bahá’ís were not in contempt of a injunction entered in 1966 against the NSA loyal to Mason Remey.”[T]he chain of successorship lacks a link,” wrote the Honorable Amy J. St Eve, United States District Court Judge,in her Judgment in favor of the Orthodox Bahá’í Faith and the Bahá’í Publishers Under the Provisions of the Covenant. The Court ruled on 23 April 2008 after holding an evidentiary hearing on 7 January 2008 in Chicago, Illinois on the contempt motion brought by the NSA. In her decision, the Court stated that: “the vast weight of the record (including credible testimony) reflects that there was a significant doctrinal rift on a critical tenet of each group’s faith, and that the PNBC’s membership varied materially from that of the NSA-UHG. The record further reflects a demonstrable lack of intent to violate the injunction, and that the PNBC was not created to avoid the effect of the injunction. Simply put, there is no substantial continuity between the NSA-UHG and the PNBC, and, as a result, Mr. Schlatter, Mr. Marangella, and the PNBC have not violated the injunction.”

The appellate case had been fully briefed when the parties argued in Chicago Illinois on 20 February 2009 before a panel of Judges of the Court of Appeals: the Honorable Daniel A. Manion, the Honorable William J. Bauer, and the Honorable Diane S. Sykes.

Appearing on behalf of the Orthodox Bahá’ís was James McClymonds, a New York attorney who is the grandson of A.S. Petzoldt, the chairman of the NSA under the Hereditary Guardianship (under Mason Remey) and whose deposition was taken by the NSA in the original case.  James was a small child when his grandfather expressed the wish that someone would one day come forward to overturn the outrageous judgment that the Wilmette NSA had obtained against Remey’s NSA.

The appellate briefs and a recording of the oral argument held on 20 February 2009 are available on the web site of the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago Illinois:

Appellate Briefs:  Enter the Year = “08” and the Case Number = “2306”  Then click “List Cases”, then click the Case Number for a listing of the briefs in PDF format.


The oral arguments of the Wilmette NSA’s appeal of Judge St. Eve’s decision favoring the Orthodox Baha’is was held on 20 February 2009 in Chicago Illinois.

Here is a transcript of part of the exchange between Mr. Handelman,the attorney for the NSA, and a couple of the Judges of the Court of Appeals. No matter how hard he tried to obfuscate the outrageous position of the NSA, the Judges carefully questioned him and exposed the oppressive and fascist nature of the NSA’s position, and it is here for all the world to see. [Incidentally, Judge Bauer below persistently questions Mr. Handelman on how the 1966 injunction was entered and Mr. Handelman evades the fundamental truth that only the NSA appeared at the “hearing” and that the Remey organization did not
appear and put on evidence (for some unknown reason). Mr. Handelman later admitted that only the NSA appeared which means the Injunction was effectively entered by “default”]

Here is part of the oral argument.

 Handelman, for Defendant-Appellant National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States: The principle we are here advancing today has been adopted by other courts of appeals and that is that a– while the general rule is that a nonparty cannot be
bound by an injunction issued in a case in which it wasn’t named as a party, there are — there is an important exception to that general rule and that is a nonparty is bound by an
injunction if he is legally identified with the defendant corporation…

Judge William J. Bauer: Do you know of any case involving that particular rule that you enunciated to us in a civil rights case?

Handelman: Your honor, there are a couple of cases on point, the Federal Circuit in Additive Controls addressed this question of what do you do in applying an injunction when the corporate defendant has been dissolved.

Judge Bauer: That had to do with a patent infringement case?

Handelman: That is correct.

Judge Bauer: Other than a patent infringement case, do you have anything besides– civil rights cases that involve that theory that you just enunciated?

Handelman: The two cases we rely on– one is a patent infringement case Additive Controls. The other one is a trademark infringement case

Judge Bauer: Also from the Circuit?

Handelman: That is from the First Circuit

Judge Bauer: The First Circuit?

Handelman: Correct. Both of these cases draw on, first of all, the fact that Rule 65d codified the common law in this regard and so Justice Jackson in the Regal Knitwear case summarized Rule 65d: “is derived from the common law doctrine that a decree of injunction not only binds the parties defendant but also those identified with them
in interest.”

Judge Bauer: Let me intrude myself again. Was the original injunction a consent decree or was it a fought out battle?

Handelman: No the scenario leading to the injunction, the…

Judge Bauer: No, all I ask is a very simple question. Did Judge Austin formulate this decree himself or was it a consent decree?

Handelman: It was not a consent decree.

Judge Bauer: OK

Handelman: There were findings of fact and conclusions of law…

Judge Bauer: Based on a contested argument before, and presentation of evidence before Judge Austin?

Handelman: The… my understanding is that the NSA…

Judge Bauer: See you weren’t around in those days. I was.

Handelman: But your Honor Judge Austin.. Bare in mind this was the counterclaim, the original was, was against the NSA. The trademark infringement claim was brought by way of a counterclaim. So they started it. We responded and there was a findings of fact and conclusions of law entered by Judge Aspen.

Judge Bauer: After a hearing?

Handelman: I do not know if there was testimony at the hearing. I do not believe there was testimony given at the hearing by both sides but Judge Austin…

Judge Bauer: What was the predicate for the decision? Stipulation of facts?

Handelman: No, there was no stipulation, the NSA…

Judge Bauer: Then how did he arrive at a decree at all?

Handelman: The uh, I believe, the NSA submitted, appeared at the hearing and presented Judge Austin. I don’t know if there was live testimony at the hearing or not but it presented evidence on which the findings and conclusions were based.

Judge Bauer: What evidence did they and how did they present it?

Handelman: Well, for example, the deposition of the chairman of the UHG was taken and submitted to the Court, so we had the deposition…

Judge Bauer: Accepted by both sides as factually true?

Handelman: The testimony was sworn deposition testimony of the Chairman

Judge Bauer: There is sworn testimony on each side of the case normally but I want to know, how did Judge Austin arrive at the conclusion if there was no presentation of live witnesses?

Handelman: Um

Judge Bauer: Was it a stipulation of facts? In which case..

Handelman: No I do not believe it was a stipulation, your honor. We can look into whether

Judge Bauer: It was a question of fact, and he made a resolution based on affidavits?

Handelman: If I could look into that and get back to you I would prefer to do that.

Judge Bauer: I have no idea how the decree came to be, thats my problem

Handelman: OK

Judge Diane S. Sykes: Do you know whether the constitutionality of issuing such an Injunction was litigated, given the religious context?

Handelman: Yeah, I believe Judge Austin made explicit findings that the trademark laws apply equally to religious organizations and commercial organizations and that this, this case involved a blatant infringement of trademark rights that were recognized under federal law.

Judge Sykes: The legal landscape in this area of course has changed since then. We are talking of, about an injunction issued 40 years ago and the Supreme Court, in the meantime has issued the Presbyterian Church case that talks about the principles, the neutral principles doctrine that needs to be applied in this context, and of course that
case wasn’t on the books at the time.

Handelman: That is correct your honor. With respect to, first of all the validity of the trademark and the finding of infringement, those issues are not open to be retried in the context of a contempt proceeding as a prefatory matter, but beyond that the law is well
settled that religious organizations as I mentioned are entitled to the protection of the trademark laws and in this case…

Judge Sykes: But they are not entitled to a judicial declaration that their church is the one true church and thats what Judge Austin said.

Handelman: Well if, your honor, in the context of a religious case under the Lanham Act, the mark is valid. There is no per se rule against trademark protection in the religious organization context. What you look at is whether the mark in question signifies affiliation or membership with a single organization and in this case the National
Spiritual Assembly has a three tiered administrative structure as is laid out in the briefs. You have the Universal House of Justice at the highest level, you have the national spiritual assemblies at the intermediate level of which there are 183 worldwide, and then you have the local spiritual assembly. The Baha’i mark is federally registered, is extensively used, was federally registered at the time of the original injunction, and it signifies members who are affiliated with national spiritual assemblies authorized by the Universal House of Justice in Haifa. Now whats happening in this case, the Alleged
Contemnors, are through their web sites calling themselves the official, in one case, the SIBC has a web site where it calls itself the official Universal House of Justice, and as a result prospective members are going to that site thinking they are contacting our client, the Universal House of Justice in Haifa Israel, when they are not. They are also believing that the content on the site is approved by the Universal House of Justice, when it is not. And this is precisely the harm that the Lanham Act is intended to prevent and Professor McCarthy in his treatise recognizes as much, and if I could quote briefly: “If a parent religious society remains true to the tenets of the religion it is entitled to protection against the minority’s use of the same name. For example, a preliminary injunction can be obtained by the Mother Church against a local which has disaffiliated as it stops paying to the Mother Church and the rationale makes sense because without a preliminary injunction the Mother Church would be outside of…”

Judge Bauer: Who are you quoting at the moment?

Handelman: Professor McCarthy, his treatise on Trademark and Unfair Competition. So he is recognizing…

Judge Bauer: He is recognizing but the Supreme Court is more significant than Professer McCarthy is I would suspect, wouldn’t you?

Handelman: But the point is that this case does not call upon this Court to evaluate religious doctrine. It calls upon this Court to apply the Lanham Act to religious organizations which has been done before.

Judge Sykes: Well to the extent that you are reading the injunction as prohibiting anyone other than the NSA from using the word Baha’i in the title of the religious organization’s name, um, that clearly raises some constitutional concerns. Is that how you are reading the injunction? That you have exclusive, that your client has exclusive rights to the term Baha’i and no schismatic organization, schismatic group, breakaway group could ever use it into perpetuity in the United States?

Handelman: As long as the trademark rights are valid and federally registered and not abandoned, that is correct, as Professor…

Judge Sykes: The word Baha’i? So to use a hypothetical. Someone could copyright Christianity. Somebody could copyright Judaism, and that would prohibit anybody else from using that terminology in the title of their religious organization?

Handelman: No, each, each religious name or

Judge Sykes: I am sorry, not copyright, trademark.

Handelman: Yeah, each religious name or mark has to be evaluated on its own merits. There is no blanket…

Judge Sykes: But whats the response to the hypothetical, though?

Handelman: The hypothetical is yes, we. In other words a splinter group that is not affiliated with the National Spiritual Assembly authorized by the Universal House of Justice is not permitted to use the term Baha’i in a way where it is holding itself out as being affiliated with the group headed by and authorized by the Universal House of Justice.

Judge Sykes: Well that’s, that’s, different. But they can use the word Baha’i in the name of their new church, but they just can’t use it in a way that implies affiliation with the Mother Church.

Handelman: That is correct. They cannot, cannot confuse the public into believing that they are affiliated with the Mother church when they are not, particularly where, as here, their doctrines are in many cases antithetical to those espoused by the Mother Church.

Judge Sykes: What could they call themselves and escape liability for contempt?

Handelman: They would have to use a non-confusingly similar name because they are not…

Judge Sykes: Can they use the word Baha’i?

Handelman: It would depend on– not if it suggested affiliation with the Mother Church.

Judge Bauer: How about Reform Baha’i? Can they use that term?

Handelman: That would be a hypothetical that…

Judge Bauer: That’s my hypothetical…

Handelman: It would…

Judge Bauer: And I want a hypothetical answer.

Handelman: If the use suggested affiliation…

Judge Bauer: I just gave it to you. Reform Baha’i.

Handelman: No that. Under the injunction, that would be prohibited. The injunction…

Judge Bauer: Yeah, I read the Injunction. I just don’t know how it came to be. But you’re going to enlighten me on that subject.

Handelman: So the injunction would prohibit a use likely to cause confusion as to affiliation….


Funny thing is Mr. Handelman quotes from Professor McCarthy that “If a parent religious society remains true to the tenets of the religion it is entitled to protection against the minority’s use of the same name.” Of course, the Wilmette NSA DOES NOT REMAIN TRUE to the tenets of the religion as the Orthodox Baha’is are constantly pointing out.

We do not know how the Court will rule, but clearly the Judges of the 7th Circuit are not fooled by the NSA’s obfuscation. The NSA wants the Courts to enforce their belief that they are the one and only Baha’i Faith, and the NSA has proved itself to be in contempt of the basic religious freedoms of this country, even while the publicly whine about similarly motivated persecution against them in Iran, a country that does not have the same traditions of freedom of religion.

The true colors of the NSA come out here. They would trample over our freedom of religion and the Bill of Rights of the U.S. constitution.

This is the World Order they seek to impose upon the world.


There has been no evidence that the Orthodox Baha’is have any web sites or publications that confuse the public to believe that we are affiliated with the headless UHJ. To the contrary, everything on our sites is critical of that organization and expressly points out our differences. But they have taken the position that simply use of the word “Baha’i” somehow creates the confusion and this is an absurd and over-reaching view.


The suit involves both the Orthodox Baha’is and the Baha’is under the Provisions of the Covenant (which is the Jensen/Chase group and I believe is responsible for the web site you mentioned). My point was that there is nothing like that from the OBF group. The NSA’s actual position, as stated by Handelman after questioning by the Judges, is that nobody else can use the word Baha’i, and this position is outrageous if only you could see dispassionately and free of fanatic blinders.


There is no confusion in use of terms. The NSA’s attorney was trying his best not to state what their position was, but after being hammered by the Judges, he was forced to admit that the NSA wants to enforce the Judgment’s finding that they are the one true Baha’i Faith and they are the only ones who could call themselves Baha’i.

This finding happens to be unconstitutional and goes against a long line of Supreme Court precedent which began in 1969, several years after the Judgment was entered. This is what bothers the Judges of the Court of Appeals. The NSA is asking them to deny us our religious freedom– the right to call ourselves Baha’is.


The comments of the heterodox believers demonstrates their lack of understanding of the Faith. They don’t think that preventing us from calling ourselves Baha’i would prevent us from practicing our religion. But isn’t that what the Iranian authorities are doing:

“Stop saying you are a Baha’i and then we will restore your rights”?

They effectively wish us to recant our Faith.


The Supreme Court case was not decided until 1969, and at the time of the 1966 Judgment the federal courts were split on the issue (which split was resolved by the Supreme Court).

The Orthodox Baha’is did raise the issue and the line of cases from 1969 on neutrality principles, but Judge St. Eve never even reached the issue because she ruled that the Orthodox Baha’is were not even bound by the Judgment. Since we are not bound by it, the question of the Judgment’s enforceability did not have to be decided.


I believe this is a correct statement. There is binding authority and persuasive authority. A decision of this Court of Appeals is binding only in the 7th Circuit, although its logic and reasoning will be persuasive beyond that.


Not only does Judge Bauer mention Reform Baha’i but he insists that the NSA’s attorney answer whether or not someone could call himself a Reform Baha’i, and the NSA attorney finally is forced to admit the NSA’s position which is that nobody can call themselves a Baha’i unless they are recognized by his client’s UHJ.


Not only is it disgraceful, but it is extremely hypocritical for them to run to Congress seeking its condemnation of Iran for persecution of Baha’is when they are doing the same to us.  While the NSA’s persecution of the OBF may be different in scale (but only because the NSA does not have the power to imprison us or execute us), they are motivated by the same idea that they perceive us to be heretical and because we are opposed to their religious authority. It is mind- boggling for these people to expect the federal courts in the United States to enforce their version of the Baha’i Faith, to say they are the one true Faith and everyone else cannot be Baha’is.

It really does not matter, though, whether they get a court order against us, or whether they have suckered a whole bunch of people so that they have larger numbers.  It does not matter how small we are. The only thing that matters is what is true and what is false.  They are false and they are destined to fail.  Their entire organization is a house of cards ready to tumble down at any time. Thank God for that!






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