A Kentucky woman convicted of harassment for wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt to a family festival in 1998 won a reversal Friday from the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which ruled she did not violate the law.
Venus Starlett Dust Morgan, then a 20-year-old college student, was convicted of harassment for wearing a Manson shirt displaying the lyric "I am the god of F***" to the Tater Day Festival in Benton, Kentucky. She was ordered to pay a $250 fine and $72 in court costs.
However, in a ruling by a three-judge panel that overturned the opinions of two lower court judges, the court declared, "It is not sufficient simply for one to be offended, or to be simply annoyed, by a vulgar display" according to the terms of the statute under which Morgan was charged.
"The actor must engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts which alarm or seriously annoy another person," Appeals Court Judge Thomas Emberton wrote in the ruling. "A single act that annoys another person simply is not harassment as defined by the statute."
Although Morgan argued the First and 14th Amendments protected her, the court elected not to discuss those arguments because "it is not necessary to a resolution of this case."
Morgan lost her first appeal to Marshall Circuit Court, where a judge said the T-shirt was not constitutionally protected free speech.
"It would have been better if [the appeals court] came down on the free speech violations," David Harshaw, Morgan's lawyer, said, "but either way you slice it, this is a big victory for the First Amendment. It's also a great victory for me and my client. It's been a long time coming."
Representatives for Marilyn Manson had no comment. Michael G. Wilson, the Kentucky assistant attorney general who argued the case, also declined to comment.