By: Dorothy Giobbe
Newspapers rejected photo of dark Jesus
from religious group’s advertisement sp.
A SALT LAKE city newspaper acted within its rights when it rejected a religious organization’s ad depicting a dark-skinned Jesus Christ, the Utah Supreme Court ruled last month.
The July 27 ruling upheld an October 1992 summary judgment against the World Peace Movement of America, which had sued alleging religious discrimination.
However, the court reversed part of the earlier decision ordering the group to pay court costs and attorney’s fees for the Newspaper Agency Corp., which publishes the Salt Lake City Tribune and the Deseret News under a joint operating agreement.
The agency operates circulation, advertising and production for both newspapers, but each paper maintains an independent editorial department and sets its own standards for advertising acceptability.
In its decision, the court found that while newspapers can’t deny ad space based on the religion of the advertiser, “a publisher may discriminate on the basis of content, even when content overlaps with a suspect classification like religion . . . . It was the message that NAC rejected, not its proponents.”
“It was a wonderful, sweet ad,” said Jean Webb, World Peace Movement spokeswoman, characterizing the decision as “unfair, an injustice, and contrary to everything that freedom of the press should be.”
In September 1990, the head of the World Peace Movement, Israel Malupo, who goes by the name of of Israel the Elias, submitted an ad for TV Week, the newspapers’ weekly supplement.
The ad said, “Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the creator of this world” and included a photo the group described as “a dark-skinned man with Polynesian features, dressed in biblical garb.” A central belief of the World Peace Organization is that Jesus Christ was dark skinned.
At the time, the newspapers published separate versions of TV Week. While the Tribune published the complete ad in its TV Week, the News, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, refused to print the picture but accepted the text of the ad, said Sharon Sonnenreich, attorney for NAC.
In early October, the two TV books merged and adopted the News’ stricter ad acceptability standards, Sonnenreich said.
Malupo again tried to place the ad with the photo, and the advertisement again was rejected.
News publisher William James Mortimer said he felt the ad was “offensive” because “it is blasphemy for any living human being to portray themselves as Jesus Christ,” Sonnenreich said.
In April 1992, the World Peace Organization filed a civil lawsuit charging the NAC with religious discrimination.
“Freedom of the press needs to be redefined,” Webb said after the state’s highest court ruled. She added, “according to First Amendment, if you’re in business, you have to treat everybody the same.”
But Sonnenreich disagreed.
“We ain’t the government and [Malupo] isn’t our citizen,” Sonnenreich said.
?( Objectionalbe photo) [Photo]