February 24

This Day in History

General Interest

Feb 24, 1988:

Supreme Court defends right to satirize public figures

The U.S. Supreme Court votes 8-0 to overturn the $200,000 settlement awarded to the Reverend Jerry Falwell for his emotional distress at being parodied in Hustler, a pornographic magazine.

In 1983, Hustler ran a piece parodying Falwell's first sexual experience as a drunken, incestuous, childhood encounter with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell, an important religious conservative and founder of the Moral Majority political advocacy group, sued Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, for libel. Falwell won the case, but Flynt appealed, leading to the Supreme Court's hearing the case because of its constitutional implications. In February 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court's decision, ruling that, although in poor taste, Hustler's parody fell within the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech and the press.

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