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Fraternal Imposters

Wearing Fraternal Emblems

Fraternal emblems are not public domain and cannot be worn by anyone who does not belong to the fraternity from which it issues. And while adult fraternities such as Freemasonry, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Druids, etc., permit members to own individual copies of such emblematic jewelry, other fraternities, most notably college fraternities - i.e., Sigma Nu, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, etc. only loan their official members emblems or pins to members for their lifetime: They remain the property of the fraternity and are supposed to be returned to the fraternity at the death or resignation of the member.

Unfortunately many family members, particularly sons, are unaware of proper etiquette (and in most states the law) with respect to wearing a deceased relatives fraternal pin or more likely their fraternal emblem ring. Members of fraternities have often experienced asking a man they think is a e.g., Mason, etc., because of a ring he wears, only to discover on inquiry that he is not a member himself but wears it only in memory of their father or other close relative who was a member. While that man surely would not have pinned on and worn in public their relatives military distinctions such as a Purple Heart, Bronze or Silver Star, or Congressional Medal of Honor, etc., they nevertheless mistakenly believe that it is acceptable behavior to wear a hard earned fraternal decoration.

Such fraternal imposters could pay a much greater tribute to their relative by following in their footsteps and earning the right to wear the ring for themselves.

For those who consider this discourse the product of sentimentality, they should be aware that it is simply a restatement of the law of most states. In addition to having legal protection in most states, federal law relating to trademarks, service marks and copyrights protects fraternitys fraternal emblems from being usurped by those not privileged to use the same. With regard to state law, California statutes are indicative of how the majority of states treat fraternal impersonation:

California Business & Professions Code 14492. As used in this article the following terms have the meanings set forth in this section unless the context otherwise requires:

(a) "Organization" includes any lodge, order, beneficial association, fraternal or beneficial society or association, historical, military or veterans organization, labor union, or any other similar society, organization or association or degree, branch, subordinate lodge or auxiliary thereof.

(b) "Name and Ownership." Name is that name which has first been adopted and used by an organization within or beyond the limits of this State, which name has been registered in the Office of the Secretary of State, and the name of any organization which has complied with the provisions of Division 3, Part 4, Title 10, Chapter 2, of the Civil Code of the State of California, unless such name conflicts with a name duly registered in the Office of the Secretary of State prior to the compliance with such provisions of the Civil Code, and any organization which has so first adopted and used such name is its original owner.

California Corporations Code 21300. As used in this chapter, the following terms have the meanings set forth in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:

(a) "Association" includes any lodge, order, beneficial association, fraternal or beneficial society or association, historical, military, or veterans organization, labor union, foundation, or federation, or any other society, organization, or association, or degree, branch, subordinate lodge, or auxiliary thereof.

(b) "Insignia" includes badge, motto, button, decoration, charm, emblem, or rosette.

California Corporations Code 21307. Any person who willfully wears, exhibits, or uses for any purpose a name or insignia registered under this chapter, unless he is entitled to use, wear, or exhibit the name or insignia under the constitution, bylaws, or rules of the association which registered it, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by fine of not to exceed two hundred dollars ($200) or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed 60 days.

California Corporations Code 21308. Any court of competent jurisdiction may restrain by injunction:

1. The wearing or use of the insignia of any association, unless the person wearing or using the insignia is entitled to wear or use the insignia under the constitution, by-laws or rules of the association.

2. The use of the name of any association in a commercial venture, trade or business or in the solicitation of subscriptions for or advertising in any newspaper or other publication or in the solicitation of donations by any person representing directly or indirectly that such commercial venture, trade or business, newspaper or other publication or donation or solicitation for donation, is sponsored, endorsed or being offered by any association, unless the person so using the name is entitled to use the name under the constitution, by-laws or rules of the association or by the written consent of such association to such use.

California Corporations Code 21309. In any action under Section 21308 it is not necessary to allege or prove actual damages or the threat thereof, or actual injury or the threat thereof to the plaintiff, but in addition to injunctive relief any plaintiff in any such action is entitled to recover the amount of the actual damages, if any, sustained by such plaintiff.

California Penal Code 538b. Any person who willfully wears the badge, lapel button, rosette, or any part of the garb, robe, habit, or any other recognized and established insignia or apparel of any secret society, or fraternal or religious order or organization, or of any sect, church or religious denomination, or uses the same to obtain aid or assistance within this State, with intent to deceive, unless entitled to wear and use the same under the constitution, by-laws or rules and regulations, or other laws or enactments of such society, order, organization, sect, church or religious denomination is guilty of a misdemeanor.



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