PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed suit today on behalf of George Kalman, a filmmaker who was prevented from incorporating his business under the name of his choice because it violates a Pennsylvania statute that prohibits corporate names containing "words that constitute blasphemy...or that profane the Lord's name."
"The Constitution does not allow the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to apply a religious litmus test to decide what corporate names to accept," said Thomas Lee, a volunteer attorney from Dechert LLP representing Kalman.
Kalman, a Downingtown resident, is the founder and CEO of a film production company called "I Choose Hell Productions." In late 2007, Kalman applied to the Pennsylvania Department of State Corporation Bureau for a certificate of organization for his business. His application was rejected because the "entity name may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord's name," a direct quote from a Pennsylvania statute.
"I was amazed at how our government can impose religious beliefs on others," said Kalman. "Who's lord are they talking about anyway?"
According to the lawsuit, the statute is unconstitutional because the commonwealth relies on a religious standard to determine if a business name is acceptable or not. It also violates Kalman's free speech rights by allowing anonymous government officials to refuse business names that offend them.
Kalman says he chose the name of his production company because he believes it expresses his personal philosophy that it is better to struggle through difficult times in life than to commit suicide, even if life is "hell."
The specific Pennsylvania statue in question is § 1303(c)(2)(ii) of Title 15 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.
In addition to Lee, Kalman is also represented by Elizabeth H. Kimmelman, Leora Eisenstadt and Matthew Bleich of Dechert LLP, Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Seth Kreimer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
More information about the case, including a copy of the complaint, can be found here.