Religious Symbols and Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices

It is common to see advertising for business using Christian symbols such as a crucifix on a flyer, or a business person using scripture verses on their memorabilia when the business is not organized for a religious purposes. This can be quite an effective business tactic: it attracts customers of a similar faith and implies honesty in the business person’s practices.  But, when a business deal goes south, such practices could potentially hold a business liable under N.C.G.S. § 75-1.1 as partaking in an unfair and deceptive trade practice.

Though there is no precise definition of an unfair method of competition or a deceptive method of competition, practices that are immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous, or substantially injurious would also be considered unfair and could lead to liability under the law. The placement of a religious symbol on advertising could certainly be considered a violation of public policy under this standard, at least unethical. In a free marketplace, individuals should not be induced by an individual business owner’s personal affiliations but should be induced by a businessman’s professional reputation, for the sake of consumer protection. Placing Christian symbols on an individual’s solicitations and paperwork not only implies that the businessman is honest with no other substantiation, but also convinces consumers to hire them or purchase their goods for no other reason than the fact that they have the same religious affiliation. Although the consumer has the right to choose whomever they would like to do business with for whatever reason, the act was enacted for the purpose of protecting consumers from predatory trade practices.  And although religious speech is protected by the first amendment, the first amendment offers far less protection for speech made for advertising purposes.  Given the problematic nature of these advertisements, they could be held against a person in court. So if you are a business not organized for a religious purpose who wants to use religious symbols in any of your advertisements, like flyers or business cards, you should be careful as there is a potential for liability as an unfair or deceptive trade practice.