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Joe Cannon: Adoption of FLDS name is akin to identity theft

SHARE Joe Cannon: Adoption of FLDS name is akin to identity theft

In the days following the raid on the Texas polygamous compound, I took a call from a St. Louis radio host requesting one of our reporters to come on his show to "talk about the situation in Utah." Early in this cordial conversation, I informed him that this newspaper is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that I am a member of this church.

After a few minutes, it became clear that he thought I was somehow affiliated with the FLDS group. I felt like an anthropology specimen. The questions were friendly and good natured, but imbedded in them was the notion that there was really no difference between the LDS Church and the FLDS group, they were simply all Mormons to him.

Given the enormous national and international attention focused on the Texas raid, it has been abundantly clear that while many people understand the difference between the LDS Church and this polygamous group, unfortunately there is still substantial confusion between the two.

Much of this confusion comes from misapplying the name Mormon, as in "fundamentalist Mormon" or "Mormon polygamist." The LDS Church has gone to great lengths to protect the name Mormon (note video of Elder Quentin L. Cook on YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUtjsdtDOkQ). However, much misidentification simply results from the confusion between the terms LDS and FLDS.

Not only are many of the FLDS teachings in conflict with, and repugnant to, the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but, in fact, a person who believes in or practices the teachings of the fundamentalists would be excommunicated from the LDS Church.

While not strictly speaking identity theft, the adoption of FLDS by this group at best is confusing and at worst undermines the credibility of the Latter-day Saints and tarnishes the LDS "brand." Sometimes damage to a brand or a trademark has been called attempted identity theft at the corporate level.

I am not making a narrow legal argument about trademark law issues here. Rather, my discussion is more broadly about brand identification and injury to a brand name.

While the terms LDS and Mormon are not brands in the commercial sense, these terms reflect the identity, reputation and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church has the right and expectation that the use of these terms will convey certain impressions to those who become aware of them. This is known in the business world as brand equity and in the words of NetMBA.com it "is an intangible asset that depends on associations made by the consumer."

An illustration from the business world might give us some insight. Suppose several engineers at General Electric invented an electric motor and decided that their product was superior to other similar products produced by the company. This group of engineers decides then to break away from General Electric and form a new company called Fundamental General Electric or FGE for short. How would General Electric react to this? Would it feel that its brand equity was being diminished or stolen? Of course they would. And they would be right.

Similarly, this group which claims to be a break-off of the LDS Church is, as noted, utterly different in its beliefs and practices. In an April 19 story in our paper, Brian Hales, a Layton physician and historian, notes, for example, that "brain-washing is a legitimate description of what occurs within the FLDS Church 'because they don't allow any outside information inside and vice versa.' On the other hand, the Salt Lake-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which many continue to mistakenly associate with the polygamous sect — sends missionaries around the globe preaching a gospel message centered in Jesus Christ, Hales said. The opposite is true of the FLDS Church, which is insular, secretive and has no desire to share a message of salvation with others ... That's their world, and it's the direct opposite of what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young promoted."

The group that became known as the FLDS Church didn't begin until 1929. More significantly this group did not even adopt the name FLDS until nearly a century after the LDS Church abandoned polygamy.

Whatever their motivation, the consequence of this group's adoption of the name FLDS has damaged the LDS Church's identity, brand name and reputation.

Joe Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.