• U.S.

Toll-Free Woes: Clogging Jerry’s phones

1 minute read

While Oral Roberts struggles with budgets, Fundamentalist Preacher Jerry Falwell faces a different kind of money pinch. The Lynchburg, Va., televangelist has long used toll-free phone numbers to assist viewers seeking spiritual help. The code-800 exchange has also worked well for fund raising, since those who phone in free are more likely to make pledges.

For many months Falwell foes, aware that each phone-in costs $1, have purposely clogged his lines. First an Atlantan who objects to TV ministers programmed his computer to dial Falwell every 30 seconds. Before Southern Bell stepped in, the stunt cost Falwell $750,000. Then it was homosexual periodicals egging on readers to act against Falwell, an enemy of gay liberation. Late last year the Daily Cardinal student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, ran a column advocating “telephone terrorism” and listed the 800 numbers of several targets, including Falwell.

The TV preacher estimates that annoyance calls cost him more than $1 million last year, not counting lost donations. Falwell, who is considering legal action, regards the calls as “unlawful activities” that do “injury to the cause of Christ.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com