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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | Back issues
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First Amendment Protects Offensive Ad, Court Rules

CHICAGO (CN) - The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed a libel lawsuit between rival clothing stores in Chicago, ruling that a store owned by Italians made a "shameless appeal to ethnic prejudice" by printing an ad in the Chicago Sun-Times bashing a Jewish-owned competitor, but that the ad itself was protected by the First Amendment.

Cosmo's Designer Direct, a discount men's clothing store that prides itself on being the "home of the original 3 for 1 promotion," took out a newspaper ad in 2004 in response to Imperial Apparel's "3 for 1" sale on men's suits. Imperial is owned by the Rosengartens, who are Jewish, and is about 20 miles from Cosmo's, whose namesake is owner Cosmo Laudadio, an Italian.

The headline on the ad stated, "WARNING! Beware of Cheap Imitators Up North," followed by text that advised Imperial to "Start being kosher ... Stop openly copying and coveting your neighbor's concepts or a hail storm of frozen matzo balls shall deluge your 'flea market style warehouse.'"

It went on: "Thankfully most readers, like thousands of our customers, possess a taste level that can easily decipher the quality gap between dried cream cheese and real Parmigiano ... It is laughable how with all the integrity of the 'Iraq Information Minister,' they brazenly attempt pulling polyester over your eyes by conjuring up a low rent 3 for imitation that has the transparency of a hookers (sic) come on."

The court concluded that the ad was undoubtedly offensive, but not libelous.

"No matter how distasteful they may be, epithets aimed at ethnic or religious groups fall within the protection of the First Amendment," Justice Karmeier wrote.

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