Catholic Bishop Objects to Larry Flynt’s Presence at GU
By Niraj Pahlajani Hoya Staff Writer
Auxiliary Bishop William Lori of the Archdiocese of Washington protested Georgetown’s decision to allow Larry Flynt, creator and publisher of Hustler magazine and first amendment rights activist, to speak on campus Friday.
Georgetown allowed Flynt’s address because of its policy promoting free speech on campus by permitting students and organizations to invite controversial speakers, according to university spokesman Dan Wackerman.
In phone calls Thursday evening and Friday morning, Lori criticized University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., for allowing Flynt to speak, according to Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Lori. In a press release, Lori said Flynt speaking at Georgetown is “utterly contrary to the Catholic identity of Georgetown University. The university’s actions are indefensible.”
While Wackerman confirmed there was a conversation between O’Donovan and Lori on the matter, he said the university makes it a practice “not to talk about the correspondence between [the university] and the archdiocese.”
Lori was speaking on behalf of Cardinal Hickey, who is currently out of the country. “No Catholic university should provide a platform which furthers the degradation of women, immoral behavior, and the anti-religious opinion Mr. Flynt represents,” Lori said. “Mr. Flynt’s appearance has nothing to do with free speech.”
“Although Larry Flynt was speaking, Georgetown does not in any way endorse Larry Flynt or the event,” said Wackerman. “I don’t think anyone [in the administration] was pleased the event took place.”
However, the university is strongly committed to its free speech policy, Wackerman said.
The university tolerates controversial speech because “Georgetown is a university, because Georgetown is Catholic and Jesuit and because America is a democracy. And allowing … free speech is at the core of all three traditions,” said O’Donovan, in an address given at a free speech forum on arch 2.
Flynt’s speech addressed the role religion and government play in censoring first amendment rights. “The first amendment protects offensive speech. Freedom of speech is for speech you hate the most … we must tolerate things we don’t like so we can be free,” Flynt said.
In a press conference before the speech, Flynt said he thought religion has done more harm than good to mankind.
“The Church has had its hand on our crotch for 2,000 years. Now the government is moving in that direction. By controlling our pleasure centers, [the government] wants to control us.”
Flynt disagreed with censoring pornographic material like Hustler, saying, “Hitler started burning pornography, which led to [burning] Voltaire and Shakespeare … we can’t let Big Brother get his foot in the door because he’ll control you by controlling information.”
Flynt also said, “the greatest right a nation can afford its people is the right to be left alone.”
Stephen Wayne, a professor of Government, said Congress’ passing of the Communications Decency Act is an example of a recent attempt by the government to control pornography. As part of the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, the CDA sought to make Internet access to pornographic material illegal and punishable by fine and/or a two-year prison sentence.
According to Wayne, the CDA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, not to protect pornography under the First Amendment, but because “what one might consider lewd, such as two people engaged in sex, or naked bodies, could be used for medical information, and [the CDA] would hinder communication between adults. Medical groups . such as the New England Journal of Medicine, protested this act because it felt it couldn’t put journal articles on the Internet,” Wayne said.
According to Mark Tushnet, an expert on first amendment issues and Carmack Waterhouse professor of constitutional law at the Law Center, “the Supreme Court said in 1973 that local government can ban obscenity, what ordinary people call hardcore pornography, if it is inconsistent with local community standards.”
Tushnet said, “community standards have changed so that much more sexually explicit material is accepted, and in that sense Flynt is right in that much of what people think of as pornography is constitutionally protected these days.”
In his speech, Flynt said there was a distinction between pornography, “which has been present and accepted in society since cave men drew on walls,” and obscenity, which “is sinful, better left in the minds of men, and a legal issue.”
Flynt said in a press conference that compared to other men’s magazines, “Hustler gets in more trouble because it has political satire.” Referring to the legal costs associated with this trouble, Flynt said that “Hustler charges more, so it works out.”
Flynt said Hustler’s political side is evident it “build[s] dossiers on candidates around the country, including some presidential hopefuls.” Flynt’s objective in doing this, he said, was “to expose the hypocrisy that crosses party lines,” and “to provide a voice for the 75 percent of Americans that thought the president shouldn’t be impeached.”
One statement made by Flynt that drew a strong reaction from the audience of students was that “the vagina is the most beautiful and erotic part of the female body. It’s like a flower.”
On the women’s movement, he said, “I support the women’s movement and equal rights and equal pay. But some women out on the frame [of feminism] do not represent most of the women.”
Allison Tepley (COL’99), secretary of the Lecture Fund that invited Flynt, said, “we should hear both sides of the argument.”
She added, however, that she did not support pornography, but saw it as an issue of free speech. “Basically, the argument is not whether pornography is right or wrong, but whether there should be free speech.”
Gerard Baltazar (COL’02), who attended the lecture, said that “[Flynt’s] ideas are noble, but he is limited in his range of lateral thinking. Otherwise, he is the man. For God’s sake, he publishes Hustler!”
A 1988 Supreme Court case that decided in favor of Flynt against televangelist Jerry Falwell established that emotional distress was not enough to abrogate First Amendment rights. This case formed the basis of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” a popular film based on Flynt’s cause. Falwell sued Flynt because of a political cartoon in Hustler magazine that depicted Falwell’s first sexual experience as being drunken and incestuous with his mother.
This speech was one of several planned appearances of Flynt over the following few days in the D.C. area and at New York University. At the press conference, Flynt said he was talking at several universities because “any time I can speak to young people, I like to take advantage of that.. Young people hold the future of this country in their hands and are more easily influenced and open-minded.”
“I would like to be remembered as extending the rights of free speech,” Flynt said.