It is with regret and sadness that we share this report regarding the lawsuit filed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists against Raphael Perez and the Eternal Gospel Church of Laymen Seventh-day Adventists.
Brother Perez was asked by the Southeastern Conference to start a Spanish speaking church in July of 1990. With the approval of the Southeastern Conference, he and the church began a radio ministry for the Spanish speaking people, broadcasting from the West Palm Beach area. Eventually the broadcast was being aired on five radio stations.
Taking seriously the counsel in Evangelism, 129, Raphael and the Eternal Gospel church told the conference administration that they would like to start putting advertisements in newspapers. The first one they started with was a tract which they received from the Florida Conference Adventist Book Center entitled “The Law of God” which they thought would especially appeal to the Jewish segment of the population. They bought a full page of advertising space in the Palm Beach Post, in 1991, to spread the message of this tract about the importance of God’s law.
In a matter of time, complaints started coming, and Pastor Perez was asked by his conference president to discontinue the radio program “because it was going outside his district.” He was also told to stop the newspaper ads. It seemed evident that the Lord was blessing with responses to the broadcast and the ads, and Pastor Perez felt that he must continue to spread the warning message for a lost world to all who would listen or read. Eventually, as conflict over these evangelistic outreach efforts developed, the Eternal Gospel Church was disowned by the conference and Pastor Perez was disfellowshipped from the conference. However, he and the group of Seventh-day Adventist believers in the Eternal Gospel church continued to expand their efforts as the Lord provided the way.
Through the next few years, the Eternal Gospel Church of Laymen Seventh-day Adventists arranged for ads in major newspapers across the nation. In 1993, the text of “Earth’s Final Warning” was placed in a full page ad in the Fort Lauderdale “The Sun Sentinel.” In 1995, an ad was placed in the “New York Daily News.” This brought some vocal reaction from the prominent Roman Catholic, Cardinal O’Conner and also from a General Conference representative who called the “New York Daily News.” As a result the “New York Daily News” defaulted on the contract for a second ad.
In 1998, ads were placed in the “Washington Times,” “The Miami Herald,” and “The Los Angeles Times.” Ads have also been placed in all the major Spanish newspapers of the nation. Following the appearance of an ad, on September 11, in the “Washington Times,” a Cardinal Hickey wrote an article of protest which was published in the newspaper. In it he called for the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church to make a public apology for the “unconscionable attack” upon the pope and the Catholic church. About the same time, the “Washington Times” was contacted and threatened with a lawsuit for their publication of the advertisement. Pastor Perez had previously received messages from Kermit Netteburg, and eventually from Vincent Ramik, the Roman Catholic attorney who had previously been hired by the General Conference in trademark lawsuit issues, threatening him with court action if he did not quit using the name Seventh-day Adventist.
Finally, on December 3, 1998, Pastor Perez and the Eternal Gospel Church of Laymen Seventh-day Adventists were served with a summons to answer to charges filed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. These charges included unfair competition, and trademark infringement. It is also charged that Pastor Perez and the other members of the church have caused “damage and injury” to the General Conference that is “irreparable,” and further that the use of the term “Seventh-day Adventist” by Pastor Perez, “has caused and/or is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception” producing “irreparable damage and harm.”
The General Conference in this lawsuit, civil action case #98-2940 in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida, seeks a court order enforcing that “all their owners, officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, their heirs, successors, and assigns, and all persons acting in concert or participation with them” be “restrained pendente lite [while the lawsuit is in progress] and permanently” from using the words “Seventh-day Adventist” and “SDA” or any other words that are similar in connection with their activities. In addition, the General Conference asks the court to order Pastor Perez and the Eternal Gospel Church to forthwith “cease all advertising which includes” the use of the words “Seventh-day Adventist,” “SDA,” and their equivalents in Spanish. The General Conference desires that the court instruct Pastor Perez and his fellow Seventh-day Adventist believers to “deliver up to the Clerk of this court for destruction all signs, advertisements, stationary, and all other materials in the possession or under the control of Defendants” that have the words “Seventh-day Adventist” and “SDA.” The lawsuit also requests payment for “damages suffered by the Plaintiff and for all attorney’s fees and costs incurred in the General Conference action to take this case to court, and any other further amount for which the court will make provision.
With the help of Max Corbett, a Seventh-day Adventist attorney in Texas, Pastor Perez returned a response to the court on January 19, 1999. In this response the Defendants admit to using the name Seventh-day Adventist, but deny that it is causing damage to the General Conference or that the General Conference even has the right to trademark the name. The Defendants have not engaged in the alleged unfair competition, nor in deceptive and unfair trade practices. They further state that the name Seventh-day Adventist is the name of a faith, and as such is an article of faith, and faith and belief cannot be trademarked. The freedom to use the name Seventh-day Adventist, as an expression of faith, is a fundamental right, and falls under the freedom of religion protected by the Unites States Constitution.
The Defendants also point out that there are a number of organizations and groups outside the General Conference that use the name “Seventh-day Adventist” and that to allow any of them to use the name to the exclusion of the others is to favor some to the exclusion of others which is a violation of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Defendants state that the lawsuit is actually a case of “malicious prosecution,” and that in reality the Defendants are doing what every Seventh-day Adventist should be doing, namely warning the world about coming chaos to the cities and the enforcement of the national Sunday law—the mark of the beast. In addition to asking the court to make the General Conference pay the costs of conducting the lawsuit, they ask the court to declare that the trademark registration is null and void, and unenforceable.
Pastor Perez asked if the General Conference would be willing to work out a settlement outside of court, and the General Conference responded with a settlement proposal dated January 19, 1999. In it Pastor Perez and the rest of the group were to discontinue all use of the name “Seventh-day Adventist,” “SDA,” and “Adventist,” especially on church signs, in advertisements and publications, church activities, Sabbath services or schedules, pamphlets, magazines, stationary, envelopes, faxes, telephone calls or audio materials, etc. The settlement also required that Pastor Perez was to keep all the terms of the agreement confidential (emphasis and underlining in the original). He was to further agree that if in the future he was found by the court to be guilty of using the name in any of the ways that were forbidden he would agree to pay all court costs, attorney’s fees, and “damages.” This settlement was to be binding upon Pastor Perez, all his associates, successors, and assigns.
Even as the General Conference lawsuit was getting under way, an ad was published on January 25, 1999, in the “St. Louis Post Dispatch” when the pope was making his appearance in St. Louis. A man who had been waiting, for 7 to 8 hours, to see the pope bought a newspaper while he was waiting and in the course of looking through it he came to the advertisement with “Earth’s Final Warning.” He read that the pope was the antichrist, and that the Catholic church had changed the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday. He went to the phone, called the number given at the end of the advertisement, and exclaimed that he had just found out that he had been waiting for eight hours to see the antichrist. He requested more information and literature that was offered.
As can often happen to those who endeavor to stand firmly for the standards of God’s Word, Pastor Perez has been viewed as being “against” the church, although he has publicly offered $1000 to anyone furnishing evidence that he has ever called the church Babylon, or encouraged people to leave the church. People have told him, “You don’t want to work with the conference.” He has responded that he would be happy to work with the conference. He has even stated that he would be willing to stop the radio broadcasts and newspaper advertisements if it can be clearly shown that the Lord wants these stopped. But it would be wrong to stop these things just because man says to stop, when the Lord clearly instructed us to go and preach to all nations and give the last warning message of mercy and impending judgments to the world.
Sometimes, it also happens that General Conference officials will state that they are not filing a lawsuit, only an injunction. An injunction, by definition, is a court order prohibiting or requiring certain actions. A lawsuit, by definition, is a case brought before a court for settlement. An injunction, is a particular kind of lawsuit. It would be a little like pointing to an oak tree and saying: “This is not a tree, it is an oak.” The issue here is whether the court is being sought to carry out and enforce an action.
LETTERS URGENTLY NEEDED
Do not be like the people of Meroz who brought upon themselves the curse of God for doing nothing in an emergency. (See Testimonies, vol. 3, 281.) If you want the Third Angel’s Message to be publicly proclaimed without reprisal, we earnestly ask that you write a letter as soon as possible to Pastor Raphael Perez.
Your letters of support and those of many others are urgently needed. They may be used in court by the lawyers who will be representing the defendants. These letters are part of an Amicus Curiae brief which refers to friends of the court who want to file evidence for use in the case (in this situation on behalf of the defendant). These letters should state reasons why a ruling against the defendants would also be against many others who subscribe to the Seventh-day Adventist faith. All of the letters need to be written in a calm and Christlike way, but should clearly express the concerns which we have. Statements from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy supporting the concerns which you express are appropriate. We have included some examples of such statements with this report. These letters should be forwarded to Pastor Raphael Perez at the following address:
Eternal Gospel Church of Seventh-day Adventists
P.O. Box 15138
West Palm Beach, FL 33416
The following are points to be considered when you compose your letter.
- This lawsuit is civil action case #98-2940 in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida.
- The author of the letter holds beliefs like those of the defendants in this lawsuit.
- Those who share this faith believe that it is our duty to God and our fellow human beings to give the last warning of mercy to the inhabitants of this earth as Pastor Perez and his co-defendants have been actively engaged in doing.
- When communicating our faith, Pastor Perez, and all of us who share his faith, should be free from the threat of prosecution.
- The name Seventh-day Adventist is a statement of faith and is not the sole property of a group claiming that title. The name was given by God Himself to His last day people.
“We are Seventh-day Adventists. Are we ashamed of our name? We answer, ‘No, no! We are not. It is the name the Lord has given us. It points out the truth that is to be the test of the churches.’ ” Selected Messages, Book 2, 384.
- Those who hold to the historic beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism should not be forced to forfeit the name that represents our beliefs. The use of a name that expresses our faith is a fundamental right and is protected by freedom of religion as outlined in the first amendment of the United States Constitution.
- The actions of the Eternal Gospel Church of Seventh-day Adventists do not constitute competition or trademark infringement as the sharing of our faith and the last warning message of mercy to the world is not a competitive or profit making venture.
- Those who believe and practice the historic tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist faith will not feel damaged or injured by the proclamation of those beliefs to the public. We do not believe that the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist has suffered any damage or injury by the actions of the Eternal Gospel Church.
- This lawsuit is actually a case of “malicious prosecution” of those who are doing what every faithful Seventh-day Adventist should be doing. As such, those who brought the case should bare the costs of conducting the case.
- Since the name Seventh-day Adventist is used by many groups and organizations that work outside the General Conference, to allow some to freely use the name while forbidding others is to favor some to the exclusion of others.
- The trademark registration of the name Seventh-day Adventist should be declared by the court to be null, void and unenforceable.
You can also send a copy of your letter to the General Conference President. You may use information from this report as a basis for your thoughts. It would also be appropriate to point out that this action is totally contrary to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. As Seventh-day Adventists, we feel that a great injustice is being done to fellow believers, and that God is being dishonored and brought to open shame by this action on the part of the General Conference. We urgently request that this case be dropped as soon as possible. The address for the General Conference President is:
General Conference President
General Conference of SDA
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Springs, MD 20904
Thank you for your prayers and help.
Statements About Lawsuits from the Pen of Inspiration:
“These men cast aside the counsel God has given, and do the very things He has bidden them not to do. They show that they have chosen the world as their judge, and in heaven their names are registered as one with unbelievers. Christ is crucified afresh, and put to open shame. Let these men know that God does not hear their prayers. They insult His holy name, and He will leave them to the buffetings of Satan until they shall see their folly and seek the Lord by confession of their sin.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 299.
“God will deal with the unworthy church member who defrauds his brother or the cause of God; the Christian need not contend for his rights. God will deal with the one who violates these rights. ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.’ Romans 12:19. An account is kept of all these matters, and for all the Lord declares that He will avenge. He will bring every work into judgment.” Ibid., 300.
“I have written largely in regard to Christians who believe the truth placing their cases in courts of law to obtain redress. In doing this, they are biting and devouring one another in every sense of the word, ‘to be consumed one of another.’ They cast aside the inspired counsel God has given, and in the face of the message He gives they do the very thing He has told them not to do. Such men may as well stop praying to God, for He will not hear their prayers. They insult Jehovah, and He will leave them to become the subjects of Satan until they shall see their folly and seek the Lord by confession of their sins.” Ibid., 302.
“I call upon you in the name of Christ to withdraw the suit that you have begun and never bring another into court. God forbids you thus to dishonor His name. You have had great light and many opportunities, and you cannot afford to unite with worldlings and follow their methods. Remember that the Lord will treat you according to the stand that you take in this life. . . .
“I tell you solemnly that if you take the action which you now purpose to take, you will never recover from the result of it. If you open before the world the wrongs that you suppose your brethren have done you, there will be some things that will have to be said on the other side. I have a caution to give you.
“In regard to the case of those who shared large responsibilities with you in the Review and Herald, and who have turned to be enemies of the work, you will not wish to hear the verdict that shall be passed upon them when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, and every man shall be judged according to the things written in the books. I want to save you from following a course that would link you up with those who have linked themselves up with fallen angels, to do all the harm they possibly can to those who love God, and who, under great difficulty, are striving to proclaim present truth to the world.” Ibid., 304–305.