[Vision2020] The Jesus Police Lose Again

Art Deco deco at moscow.com
Fri Jul 2 07:55:13 PDT 2010

Posted on Fri, Jul. 2, 2010

Judge: Pennsylvania can't block 'I Choose Hell' corporate name
By Nathan Gorenstein

Inquirer Staff Writer

Filmmaker George Kalman can now Choose Hell, and make it official.

In 2007, the independent video producer and director wanted to give his fledging business a corporate identity with a touch of personal philosophy, and so he filed paperwork to register the name "I Choose Hell Productions L.L.C."

No offense was intended to anyone, Kalman says. It's an antisuicide message, he explained, as in hell on Earth is better than the alternative.

But Kalman ran afoul of a 1977 Pennsylvania law that bans "blasphemy" in corporate names.

Of course, as world history has long proved, one person's religious insult is another person's statement of personal belief. And vice versa. Offended at the state's apparent arbitrariness, Kalman recruited the ACLU.

Cut to three years later, and U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson releases a 67-page opinion declaring the law unconstitutional.

The problem, Baylson wrote, was that the only religion that seemed to matter was Christianity, and the rules were arbitrarily applied by workers at the Department of State's Corporation Bureau with no training in religion. Then there was the matter of an ever-changing list of forbidden words.

Indeed, the office has approved Butt Beer, the Satan Management Corp., and Devil Media, not to mention Hell Razor Records, Hell Mountain Farm and Hell's Half-Acre Lake Volunteer Fire Co. (That's in Wyoming County.)

So why was Kalman singled out? It sounded unseemly in a religious sort of way, state workers said.

Kalman, who has a full-time day job as chief technology officer for Banyan Productions, was planning to spend Thursday evening reading the judge's ruling, which includes a lengthy discourse on the history of blasphemy statutes dating to 1648, when the British Parliament said blasphemers could get the death penalty.

"The only reason I filed the name is because in my movie the subject was always beating away depression and suicidal tendencies. The idea is that if life is hell, don't kill yourself, because you already own your own death," said Kalman, 50, of Downingtown.

Thomas H. Lee II, Kalman's attorney, encountered a surprise when he researched the case. "I assumed that this was a statute that was left over from either the 19th or early 20th century. I was surprised to find that it dated only to 1977," Lee said.

That was when a gun-shop owner in Western Pennsylvania incorporated the name "The God Damn Gun Shop" (that was what his wife called it) and put up a sign, angering local ministers. House Bill 371 soon followed, declaring that corporate names "shall not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing, or profane the Lord's name."

Up until now, Kalman has been operating under the corporate name ICH Productions. A Google search will turn up his website and his films, one of which was selected for the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.

The state can appeal, but no decision has been made. Barry N. Kramer, a senior deputy attorney general, said he and attorneys for the corporations office are studying the decision, which was handed down Wednesday.

The state could also attempt to pass a new law governing vulgarities. "The judge did leave some opening for certain obscenities to be perhaps prohibited," said Kalman.

Baylson did indicate that the state might have better luck if it drafts a more detailed, narrowly drawn statute.

"The court respects those for whom blasphemy is an important concept, and emphasizes that nothing in this opinion impacts their belief."

Rather, the law as written and implemented "impermissibly entangles [state] employee with religion by requiring them, at their own discretion, to make standardless determinations as to what constitutes blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing, or what profanes the Lord's name, based on nothing but their own religious beliefs."

Baylson continued: "Choosing Hell may be an irreverent choice for a corporate name, but under the Constitution this fact alone cannot be the basis for its suppression."
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