Court allows PCG more time in WCG legal wrangle

By Bill Stough

LONEDELL, Mo.--The director of the Worldwide Church of God's legal department says that if the Philadelphia Church of God wants to publish and distribute WCG-copyrighted publications it should negotiate directly with the Worldwide Church of God.

The Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) filed a countersuit in 1997 against the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) to allow it to reprint and distribute certain printed materials copyrighted by the WCG. (For a list of the disputed materials, see The Journal, April 30.) This was in response to an earlier court action in which the WCG sued the PCG to stop the latter church from printing and distributing a book by WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong.

In a May 7, 2001, hearing in U.S. District Court of the Central District of California in Los Angeles, the litigants--the PCG and the WCG--argued their points of view before Judge Christina Snyder concerning a book by Mr. Armstrong and 18 other WCG-copyrighted books, booklets and brochures.

The 18 works in question do not include the main bone of contention, Mystery of the Ages, the volume by Mr. Armstrong originally published by Dodd, Mead & Co. in 1985, not long before the church founder died.

Arsenal of arguments

In the latest hearing, the PCG sought to add the principles of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its arsenal of arguments in its fight to publish and distribute the disputed items.

The WCG, headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., in response to the PCG's legal action has filed a motion for summary judgment to block the PCG, headquartered in Oklahoma, from publishing the 18 smaller works. A summary judgment is a court ruling that does not require a full trial. The WCG contends that the recent rulings on Mystery of the Ages also apply to the other works, which the PCG also wants to publish and distribute.

Judge Snyder struck down the PCG's motion to add the RFRA to its case on Mystery. Her decision apparently halts any further legal action regarding the book.

However, the judge allowed the PCG to add RFRA to its suit regarding the 18 other works and delay until Aug. 8 the hearing on that issue. This gives PCG attorneys time to prepare the case. The WCG cannot sue for damages and attorneys' fees until these issues are resolved in court.

A request would be futile

The Journal on May 11 asked attorney Ralph Helge, the WCG's legal-department head, if he thinks the PCG can seek a court review of the matter involving the RFRA's application to the Mystery of the Ages case.

"There are some ways that PCG's attorneys might seek a court review of this matter," Mr. Helge told The Journal. "I feel confident, however, that such a request would be futile.

"Such a dilatory tactic would not, however, affect the court-ordered permanent injunction preventing PCG from printing Mystery of the Ages."

The Journal asked Mr. Helge about Gerald Flurry's prophecy in the March-April issue of Philadelphia Trumpet, the PCG's magazine. Mr. Flurry wrote: "I prophesy to you that one way or the other God will provide a way for us to mail that book again."

How would Mr. Flurry's prophecy come to pass? Is there any route by which Mr. Flurry can again print and distribute Mystery of the Ages?

"He could negotiate with WCG for printing rights," said Mr. Helge. "But I don't think he wants to do that. In fact, it has been reported that Mr. Flurry, in one of his sermons, told his congregation that he would not even deal with WCG because he does not negotiate with Satan."

Therefore, speculated Mr. Helge, perhaps Mr. Flurry plans to print Mr. Armstrong's book in another country and distribute it in the United States and elsewhere.

"I say that would be illegal," said Mr. Helge. "It would be an attempt to circumvent the law and could bring more court action.

"He won't want his prophecy to fail, so what he is probably really doing is pronouncing ahead of time what he is actually planning on doing. Hence his words are really nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The silence of the PCG

The Journal left a message on the telephone voice mail of a PCG official at church headquarters in Oklahoma. The Journal wished to inform church spokesman Dennis Leap of Mr. Helge's comments and invite a response.

As of press time, Mr. Leap had not called back.

As reported in the April 30 issue, Mr. Leap last month explained to this writer his reluctance to communicate with The Journal.

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