Jerry Falwell - Legal Issues - Falwell Versus Hustler

Falwell Versus Hustler

In November 1983, Larry Flynt's pornographic magazine Hustler carried a parody advertisement of a Campari ad, featuring a fake interview with Falwell in which he admits that his "first time" was incest with his mother in an outhouse while drunk. Falwell sued for $45 million in compensation alleging invasion of privacy, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After a civil trial, known as Falwell vs. Flynt, which lasted from December 3–8, 1984, a jury rejected the invasion of privacy and libel claims, holding that the parody could not have reasonably been taken to describe true events, but ruled in favor of Falwell on the emotional distress claim and ordered Larry Flynt to pay Falwell damages in the amount of $200,000. This was upheld on appeal. Flynt then appealed to the Supreme Court, winning a unanimous decision on February 24, 1988. The ruling held that public figures cannot circumvent First Amendment protections by attempting to recover damages based on emotional distress suffered from parodies. The decision in favor of Flynt strengthened free speech rights in the United States in relation to parodies of public figures.

After the death of Falwell, Larry Flynt released a comment regarding his friendship over the years with Falwell.

"My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling."

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