Lewd And Crude: Busted In Kentucky For Wearing A T-Shirt

by David R. Parvo

Venus Starlett Dust Morgan, a 20 year old student at Murray State University, was cited for wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt to the Tater Days festival last month. She must pay $250 plus $72 in court fees after a judge found her guilty of harassment. Authorities in Benton cited her after receiving complaints from several mothers who had brought young children to the event. The shirt depicted the band Marilyn Manson and included the phrase "I am the God of Fuck!" on the back. A state statute prohibits "an offensively course utterance, gesture or display... with intent to harass, annoy or alarm," Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards said. He went on to say that he did not feel Ms. Morgan's free-speech rights were violated, considering the phrase on the shirt: "Not when it's so offensive." Venus Starlett, however, felt a little different. "I think it was like stepping back into the days of a Salem witch trial. It was me getting burned at the stake." Everett Hoffman, executive director of the ACLU in Kentucky, said Morgan stands to win the case on appeal. "From our understanding of the facts of the case, the conduct the young woman was engaged in is protected by the First Amendment. The language on her shirt is protected."

Add this to the long list of cases where government officials and community leaders are far overstepping their bounds by violating the rights of individuals. Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards basically is picking and choosing what should be protected by the First Amendment. This is disturbing, for the First Amendment protects ALL forms of expression, no matter what the content. It cannot and should not be revised to serve the needs and desires of the leaders of a community. It is un-American and is destroying the foundation on which this country is built. According to David Morgan, Venus' father, "I just don't see it as whether somebody wore a t-shirt with a bad word on it. The real crime was that we have officials representing the will of a church." We do not know if this is true, but it would not be surprising if it was. The line which separates the church and the state is being erased by incidents such as this. There is a precedent for expressions on clothing being treated as free speech. However, if this case withstands appeal, it will establish a dangerous precedent in regards to freedom of expression in this country. Therefore, it is important to use the contacts provided below to fight for that freedom:

Marshall County Chamber of Commerce
17 U.S. Hwy. 68 West
Benton, KY 42025
Phone: 502-527-7665

Jeffrey G. Edwards
Attorney At Law
908 Poplar St.
Benton, KY 42025
Phone: 502-527-5270
Fax: 502-527-9233

ACLU of Kentucky
Executive Director: Everett Hoffman
425 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., Suite 230
Louisville, KY 40202
Phone: 502-581-1181

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