Jerry Falwell vs. Larry Flynt: The First Amendment on Trial
Robert A. Smolla
For my presentation, I reported on the Falwell vs. Flynt lawsuit, which was based upon the extent to which Americans have freedom of expression. An important aspect of this case was the dissimilarity of the two men involved: Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt. Jerry Falwell was an important religious leader of the time. He was a radio evangelist, leader of a religious group called the moral majority, and voted 2nd most influential person in America (the first being the president). Falwell represented a pure America, a decent society in which its members were committed to moral standards. Larry Flynt was his complete opposite. Flynt was editor of the infamous Hustler magazine and represented the darker side of America, one in which pornography and crudeness were tolerated. I found that the contrast between these two men made the case into a sort of battle between good and evil: Falwell, the religious role model, was being attacked by Flynt, the sleazy pornographer. Yet it is amusing that despite their differences, both believed that they would be protected under the same laws.
Falwell sued Flynt after finding a Campari ad parody using his name and likeness in Flynt's Hustler magazine. This "ad" included a photograph of Falwell and a fake interview in which Falwell supposedly states that he has had sex with his mother and regularly drinks before he preaches. Falwell was appalled by this parody. On one hand, he believed that the parody was purposely meant to hurt him. On the other hand, he did not want his reputation to be ruined if his followers saw the ad and associated him with pornography. Therefore, Falwell sued Flynt and his publisher of Hustler Magazine for invasion of privacy, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court initially ruled that they couldn't charge Flynt with a libel claim because it could not be proven that readers would assume the...
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