Dark Christianity
dark_christian
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May 2008
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Larry Flynt: My friend, Jerry Falwell

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]sunfell)

This LA Times commentary from Larry Flynt is excellent. Here's an excerpt:

After several years of listening to him bash me and reading his insults, I decided it was time to start poking some fun at him. So we ran a parody ad in Hustler — a takeoff on the then-current Campari ads in which people were interviewed describing "their first time." In the ads, it ultimately became clear that the interviewees were describing their first time sipping Campari. But not in our parody. We had Falwell describing his "first time" as having been with his mother, "drunk off our God-fearing asses," in an outhouse.

Apparently, the reverend didn't find the joke funny. He sued us for libel in federal court in Virginia, claiming that the magazine had inflicted emotional stress on him. It was a long and tedious fight, beginning in 1983 and ending in 1988, but Hustler Magazine Inc. vs. Jerry Falwell was without question my most important battle.

We lost in our initial jury trial, and we lost again in federal appeals court. After spending a fortune, everyone's advice to me was to just settle the case and be done, but I wasn't listening; I wasn't about to pay Falwell $200,000 for hurting his feelings or, as his lawyers called it, "intentional infliction of emotional distress." We appealed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and I lost for a third time.

Everyone was certain this was the end. We never thought the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear the case. But it did, and though I felt doomed throughout the trial and was convinced that I was going to lose, we never gave up. As we had moved up the judicial ladder, this case had become much more than just a personal battle between a pornographer and a preacher, because the 1st Amendment was so much at the heart of the case.

To my amazement, we won. It wasn't until after I won the case and read the justices' unanimous decision in my favor that I realized fully the significance of what had happened. The justices held that a parody of a public figure was protected under the 1st Amendment even if it was outrageous, even if it was "doubtless gross and repugnant," as they put it, and even if it was designed to inflict emotional distress. In a unanimous decision — written by, of all people, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist — the court reasoned that if it supported Falwell's lower-court victory, no one would ever have to prove something was false and libelous to win a judgment. All anyone would have to prove is that "he upset me" or "she made me feel bad." The lawsuits would be endless, and that would be the end of free speech.

Everyone was shocked at our victory — and no one more so than Falwell, who on the day of the decision called me a "sleaze merchant" hiding behind the 1st Amendment. Still, over time, Falwell was forced to publicly come to grips with the reality that this is America, where you can make fun of anyone you want. That hadn't been absolutely clear before our case, but now it's being taught in law schools all over the country, and our case is being hailed as one of the most important free-speech cases of the 20th century.


The whole article is worth a visit.

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