Exodus Ministries is an organization committed to providing “freedom from homosexuality” for gay Christians. The techniques they use to attempt to turn gays straight have been the subject of widespread criticism. To advertise their services, Exodus erected a billboard:
Justin Watt, a blogger who disagrees with the premises undergirding the “conversion” of gays to heterosexuality, created a parody, which he posted on his website:
Exodus sent nasty letters to Watt and to Mike Airhart, who reposted the parody on his blog. Watt’s image is an obvious parody, and Exodus is an unpopular organization, so it is unsurprising that both Watt and Airhart were able to garner pro bono representation.
Watt was represented by Ann Brick of the ACLU (one of the smartest internet free speech lawyers in the country) and Laurence Pulgram of Fenwick and West (one of the smartest copyright and trademark litigators in the country). Pulgram’s letter to Exodus is devastating — it’s written like a short brief, citing authorities that clearly show Watt’s use to be privileged.
Airhart was represented by Robert Klieger of Irell & Manella. Klieger’s letter to Exodus is just as devastating as Pulgram’s, but it has fewer case citations and more zingers. For example, in response to Liberty Counsel’s criticism of Watt’s link to Wikipedia’s “Fair Use” article, Klieger writes:
This is not a close case. Just as the ex-gay movement often uses weak science in support of its agenda, so Exodus is attempting to use weak law to curtail Mr. Airhart’s freedom of speech. It is unfortunate that many of Exodus’s targets have no choice but to turn to “Wikipedia” to resist Exodus’s bullying tactics. Yet, this is one instance in which “Wikipedia” appears to have a better understanding of First Amendment principles than Exodus’s own counsel.
My favorite of Klieger’s remarks is really just an internet-geek in-joke. Exodus Ministries’ site is found at “www.exodus.to” — presumably a reference to “exodus to heterosexuality” or some such concept. But “.to”, like all two-letter domain suffixes, is really the geographical domain for a country — in this case, Tonga. Klieger writes:
Notwithstanding Exodus’s selection of a Tonga domain extension for its website, we understand from your letter that Exodus has erected its billboard not in Tonga, but instead “Across America and online.” [In footnote:] Exodus’s selection of the “.to” domain is nonetheless oddly appropriate given that, in Tonga, sexual activity among two consenting adult males is a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years.
Gay.com has so far remained quiet, despite having erected billboards of their own.
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