For over 25 years the Rev. Jerry Falwell has been spewing forth his "gospel" of misinformation and vindictiveness over the radio and TV airwaves. His latest venture in his chosen occupation of TV huckster (If I take two Vegematics, will you throw in a set of Ginsu knives?) is a vitriolic attack on President and Mrs. Clinton. It is done through an hour-long informercial in which he hustles two video tapes accusing the President of a variety of crimes.
While many have accused Falwell of stretching the truth or outright lies, a confrontation occurred ten years ago that set in motion a lawsuit which would prove in two courts of law that Jerry Falwell is not a man of his word.
It was Friday, July 13, 1984. Jerry Falwell, who was riding high as the head of the Moral Majority, appeared in person on a live talk show, "Look Who's Talking," produced by Sacramento's KCRA-TV. I was in the studio audience.
During a broadcast of the "Old Time Gospel Hour" on March 11, 1984, Falwell spoke about the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Church, of which I am a former minister:
"But these things speak evil of those things, verse 10 [reading from Jude] which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Look at the Metropolitan Community Church today, the gay church, almost accepted into the World Council of Churches. Almost, the vote was against them. But they will try again and again until they get in, and the tragedy is that they would get one vote. Because they are spoken of here in Jude as being brute beasts, that is going to the baser lust of the flesh to live immorally, and so Jude describes this as apostasy. But thank God this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."
Falwell became infuriated when I tried to question him about his statement. He repeatedly denied making it, saying it was "a lie." When I said I had a tape of the statement, Falwell countered by saying he would pay me $5,000 if I could produce such a tape.
The following Wednesday I took two audio tapes to the KCRA-TV studio. One was a tape I had made as the "Old Time Gospel Hour" was broadcast in Sacramento. The second tape was produced by the "Old Time Gospel Hour" itself and obtained by sending $4.00. KCRA-TV did a follow-up by playing portions of the tapes related to my accusations and concluded Falwell had been quoted accurately and probably owed me $5,000.
My attorney sent a letter to Falwell telling him he could find the statement on his "Old Time Gospel Hour" audio tape #590 and to please send a check for $5,000 by return mail. Through an "Old Time Gospel Hour" attorney, Falwell continued to deny making the statement and accused me and KCRA of tampering with the tapes. He refused to pay.
On November 30, 1984, Falwell returned to Sacramento on a fundraising junket. Two hours prior to Falwell's landing at the Sacramento airport, I filed a lawsuit through my attorney, Rosemary Metrailer, in municipal court against Falwell for breach of an oral contract. He was greeted by the Sacramento press corps and a process server as he alighted from his multi-million-dollar shiny red, white, and blue private jet. The next day the front-page headline in The Sacramento Union read, "A bad day for Jerry Falwell."
The trial was eventually presided over by municipal court judge Michael S. Ullman, who heard the case because the assigned judge was engaged in another trial. It was unique in that both sides agreed there was no need for witnesses as everything in dispute was contained on several hundred feet of TV and audio tape.
During the course of preparing for the trial, I suggested to Metrailer that there was a similarity between this case and that of the Holocaust revisionist Institute for Historical Review in Los Angeles, who offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove the Holocaust actually happened. When presented the proof, the organization reneged on its offer and refused to pay. A lawsuit was filed and the Institute was ordered to pay the $50,000. Metrailer told me the case was not a precedent for this jurisdiction, but she would use it. If Falwell's attorney, Weldon Reeves, didn't object, it would stand. Unfortunately, Reeves caught it, objected, and the judge sustained the objection and threw it out.
Judge Ullman decided the case in my favor in an unusual — for municipal courts — seven-page opinion.
That should have been the end of it but Falwell didn't want to give up the $5,000 without further fight. He chose to appeal and through his attorney made an astounding accusation that during the trial Metrailer tried to appeal to Judge Ullman's "sympathy and prejudice" by citing the Institute for Historical Review case. Just before the trial Judge Ullman revealed he was Jewish by stating that he hoped the trial would not take more than one day as he wanted to spend the next day with his family celebrating Rosh Hashanah. In essence they were asserting that Judge Ullman was Jewish and prejudiced against Falwell, a gentile.
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations said:
"The contention that a Jewish judge will be swayed by a precedent of law based on a case that involved Jews or Jewish concerns is an irresponsible legal assertion and an outrageous moral affront to our judiciary system and the Jewish people."
The appellate court found Falwell's appeal to be "wholly frivolous and totally without merit." It also ordered him to pay additional sanctions (money) for wasting the court's valuable time. He had no ground for further appeal. Finally in September of 1986, he sent me a check for $8982.90. The endorsement on the check admonished me not to call a press conference and gloat.
A portion of the money was used to help open the Lambda Community Center as a resource for the gay and lesbian people of Sacramento. The Lambda Center has a room dedicated to Falwell. It was a closet and is now a toilet.
As stated earlier, it has been proven in not one but two courts of law that Jerry Falwell reneges on his word, lies about what he has said, and is not above using slimy tactics, even if they cause him to appear anti-Jewish.
Falwell has a documented record of making statements then dodging and denying he said them. Why would anyone give an iota of credence to anything he propagates? This certainly speaks to the character of Falwell and reminds one of certain injunctions in the inerrant scriptures he claims to believe, such as not judging others, looking after motes and beams in one's own eye before worrying about others, and speaking the truth in love. It also reminds us that it is indeed difficult for the leopard to change its spots.
Jerry Sloan attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, with Jerry Falwell. He and Marghe Covino head the California-based Project Tocsin, a group which researches the religious right. Copyright 1994 Jerry Sloan.