Bio: Jerry Falwell

A biography of Jerry Falwell:

The Rev. Jerry L. Falwell, television evangelist who was among the leaders of the so-called Religious Right — a movement that emerged in the late 1970s with the goal of getting Christian fundamentalists involved in politics.

Falwell's organization, the Moral Majority, was credited with helping elect Ronald Reagan president and with moving the Republican Party further to the right on social issues. The group's influence subsequently waned, however, and Falwell disbanded it in 1989.

Falwell was born on Aug. 11, 1933 in Lynchburg, Va.

From an early age, he excelled in school, graduating at the top of his high school class.

He was also a talented athlete. Falwell entered Lynchburg College in 1950 with the intention of earning a degree in mechanical engineering.

After becoming a born-again Christian in his sophomore year, Falwell transferred to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Around the same time, Falwell turned down an offer to play for the St. Louis Cardinals major-league baseball team.

After graduating from Baptist Bible College in 1956, Falwell set up his own congregation, the Thomas Road Baptist Church, in Lynchburg and began broadcasting a daily radio program.

Six months later, he began airing the Old-Time Gospel Hour, a religious television program. Initially, the program was recorded in a studio, but in 1968 Falwell began televising his church's weekly Sunday services.

Donations from the show's numerous loyal viewers proved a lucrative source of income; in 1971, it began airing nationwide. Also that year, Falwell established an affiliated college, Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg.

Although Falwell had initially opposed mixing religion with politics, in the late 1970s he began speaking out on public issues such as school prayer (which he supported) as well as abortion, homosexuality and the Equal Rights Amendment (which he opposed). His television program brought his views to the attention of millions and won him wide support, particularly in the South and West.

In 1979 Falwell founded the Moral Majority in order to rally evangelical Christians as a political lobbying force.

At its height in the early 1980s, Falwell claimed that the Moral Majority had more than six million members.

Falwell and his group were widely credited with helping to elect conservative Republican Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, with helping him win reelection in 1984, and with influencing the GOP to adopt a right-wing social agenda.

In addition to its political activities, the Moral Majority led a boycott of 7-Eleven convenience stores as part of a successful effort to get the chain to stop selling the adult magazines Playboy, Penthouse and Forum.

In a widely reported case, Falwell in 1984 won a lawsuit against Larry C. Flynt, publisher of the adult magazine Hustler.

Falwell had charged that he had been libeled by a cartoon that appeared in the magazine depicting him as an incestuous drunk.

The jury rejected the libel charge but awarded Falwell $200,000 for "emotional distress." However, the Supreme Court in 1988 overturned the decision, ruling that public figures enjoyed no Constitutional protection against "outrageous" statements of opinion, even if they were intended to cause emotional pain.

The Moral Majority's influence had begun to wane by the mid 1980s, and dropped sharply in the wake of sex scandals involving two other television evangelists, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.

Falwell resigned as president of the Moral Majority in 1987 and disbanded the organization in 1989, although he remained active as a television minister.

The Old-Time Gospel Hour in 1993 reached an agreement with Internal Revenue Service to pay $50,000 in taxes for using the ministry for political purposes in 1986 and 1987.

Falwell remained a prominent conservative social critic throughout the 1990s.

In 1997 he urged advertisers to withdraw their commercials from the television show "Ellen" after it was made public that the show's lead character would announce that she was a lesbian in an upcoming episode. Falwell drew media attention in February 1999 after he claimed that the children's television show "Teletubbies" featured a homosexual character and was therefore an unsuitable program for children.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., Falwell said on "The 700 Club" television program that "the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians," as well as liberal advocacy groups were to blame for the attacks. Days later, Falwell said his remarks had been taken out of context.

However, in another later statement he acknowledged that he had "singled out for blame certain groups of Americans" and apologized for his statements.

(Source: Facts on File,