Free speech lost a prime defender recently with the death of Herald Price Fahringer, the lawyer who over a more than 50-year career represented clients such as Larry Flynt and Screw magazine’s Al Goldstein. While abstaining from most vice himself, Fahringer was firmly committed to the principle that “freedom is only meaningful if it includes all speech, no matter who is offended by it.”
According to an obituary in the New York Times, one of Fahringer’s early cases in 1961 was the successful defense of an adult magazine-store owner accused of obscenity. As a result of that case, New York’s highest court narrowed the state’s legal definition of hardcore pornography to only that which is “sexually morbid, grossly perverse and bizarre without any artistic or scientific purpose or justification.” In another case he convinced the same court, the Court of Appeals, that men and women have equal rights to go topless in public parks.
The New York Times obituary recounts how Fahringer laid out his defense of all speech during one of Flynt’s many trials on pornography charges:
Freedom is only meaningful if it includes all speech, no matter who is offended by it…It would be a hazardous undertaking for anyone to start separating the permissible speech from the impermissible, using the standard of offensiveness.
The freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is indivisible. You can’t take it away from Larry Flynt and keep it for yourself. The real issue of this case is: Are we afraid to be free?
Herald Price Fahringer died on February 12 at age 87. Read the Times obituary here.