ACLU On Redskins’ Trademark Case: Government Shouldn’t Force The Team To Change Its Name

It may surprise some to learn that the ACLU opposes the move to revoke the Washington Redskins’ trademark, but a scathing report from the organization this week says exactly that. The reasons are less surprising once you understand the ACLU’s stance, though.

The Redskins logo and mascot have long been a source of contention, and while some Native Americans have said they’re not offended by it, many feel that the team’s name is quite racist and inappropriate. They’ve called for a change, but Redskins owner Dan Snyder isn’t hearing it.

In 2013, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Snyder asking him to reconsider. Next, the U.S. Patent Office canceled the Redskins’ trademark, leading the team to take the case to court. With this case still undecided, a bill has been proposed that would define the word “redskins” as a disparaging term. Since such words are not eligible for copyright, the Redskins would lose their trademark, which would amplify the pressure to change.

However, the ACLU is calling on the government not to make this move. While the organization has advocated for the team to change its name, they say they’re opposed to the government forcing them to do so. In a harshly titled post, the ACLU elaborated on their position.

“The Washington Redskins is a name that is offensive and perpetuates racism against Native Americans. Should it be changed? Yes. But should the government get to make that call? As we told a federal district court yesterday, the answer is no, because the First Amendment protects against government interference in private speech.”

The ACLU went on to make clear that they do agree that “redskins” is a disparaging term, and that they still advocate for a change, but announced that the national group has filed an amicus brief in the Washington Redskins’ trademark case, along with Virginia’s own ACLU and NYU Tech Law & Policy clinic.

“[The ACLU’s brief argues] that the government cannot constitutionally deny trademark benefits on the basis of speech that it disagrees with or finds controversial. Our brief is on behalf of the First Amendment, not the Redskins.”

Dan Snyder has maintained that he will not change the name of the Washington Redskins for any reason, and he is fighting for the right to keep the name. He probably never fathomed, though, that he would have the support of the ACLU in his court case, asserting the right to keep the Redskins’ trademark.

[Photo by: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]