Preacher and pornographer friendly despite First Amendment battle
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Like two old friends, evangelist Jerry Falwell and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt sat side by side Saturday, bantering and joking about their free speech case that wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
``I’m his pastor but he’s one of my rebellious sheep,″ joked Falwell, who sued Hustler in the 1980s for running a parody advertisement that suggested Falwell had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse.
``We’re good friends. We just have strong disagreements,″ Falwell, 64, said during a panel discussion at the University of Virginia.
Flynt, who turned 55 on Saturday, said that he gets on well with the fundamentalist preacher and anti-pornography crusader.
``In recent months, Jerry and I have established a relationship. I like him very much,″ Flynt said. ``Regardless of how much you disagree with someone, when you meet them in person you always find something to agree about.″
The two men had precious little to agree about a decade ago. Flynt’s sex magazine ran the ad parody in its November 1983 issue and Falwell sued Flynt and Hustler for $45 million, accusing the magazine of libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Baptist minister won on the emotional-distress charge and a federal jury in Roanoke awarded him $200,000 in damages.
But in 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the award by ruling that even pornographic spoofs enjoy First Amendment protection.
The story was made into an Academy Award-nominated movie, ``The People vs. Larry Flynt.″
While stressing his support for the First Amendment, Falwell said that the court’s decision removed all barriers of taste.
``Television has certainly taken advantage of this case,″ Falwell said. ``There has been a general denigration of the quality of viewing.″
But Flynt praised the ruling, saying there should be no limits to what is published or broadcast.
``The price you pay for living in a free society is toleration,″ said Flynt, who is wheelchair-bound since a 1978 assassination attempt left him paralyzed from the waist down.
The two men’s appearance attracted an audience of several hundred to the University of Virginia Law School, many of whom asked Falwell and Flynt to autograph books about the case.
Jarett Epstein, 20, was more direct. He pulled a new, glistening Christmas issue of Hustler from its plastic wrapping and asked Flynt to sign it.
``I don’t see what’s wrong with a little pornography,″ said the third-year student from New York City. ``It’ll be a little keepsake to have Larry Flynt’s signature on a copy of Hustler.″
Flynt and Falwell said they have no plans to make more joint appearances, but Falwell said his ``goal is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ″ with Flynt.
The silver-haired minister invited Flynt to attend church with him in Lynchburg on Sunday. The magazine czar just smiled and shook his head when asked if he planned to go.