For Immediate Release: Contact: Paul Alan Levy
March 5, 2003 Angela Bradbery
Jerry Falwell Denied in Second Attempt to Silence Online Critic
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Agreeing with Public Citizen's contention that it had
no jurisdiction over the Internet speech rights of an Illinois resident who
built a Web site criticizing Jerry Falwell, a federal court today dismissed a
lawsuit brought by the televangelist in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.
The decision by United States District Judge Norman Moon marks Falwell's
second loss in a legal attempt to shut down the critic's Web site, which
parodies Falwell and his statements about the responsibility of gays for the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, among other things.
The site, at www.jerryfalwell.com and www.jerryfallwell.com, pokes fun at
Falwell's advocacy of Biblical literalism and his penchant for giving advice.
Another page purports to discover a biblical code showing that Falwell is a
After the site went up in 2001, Falwell's attorney demanded that the
site's creator, Illinois resident Gary Cohn, turn over the domain names to
Falwell. Cohn refused. Falwell then filed a complaint against Cohn with the
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), alleging trademark
violations, even though Falwell had never registered his name as a trademark.
Public Citizen represented Cohn in that proceeding as well.
After the WIPO rejected Falwell's claims, Falwell sued Cohn in June 2002 in
the U.S. District Court's Western District of Virginia, alleging trademark
violations and libel.
Cohn lives in Illinois, is not licensed to do business in Virginia, has no
office or employees there, and owns no property in Virginia. Cohn's message
in no way targets Virginia residents. Registration of domain names with a
Virginia company also is insufficient to establish jurisdiction, Public
Citizen had argued.
"The threat of being sued far from home for purely noncommercial,
political speech would have a serious chilling effect. We are pleased that
the court recognized that it would be unconstitutional for Falwell to force
Cohn to appear in court there," said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy.
Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia also represented Cohn in the
case. For the court's decision and other filings in this case, go to
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in
Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.