T-shirt obscenity charges dismissed on technical grounds

Monday, March 9, 1998

Shock-rocker Ma...
Photo by AP
Shock-rocker Marilyn Manson

A Texas trial judge dismissed obscenity charges on Friday against an 18-year-old teen arrested for wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “I am the God of F—”—lyrics from shock-rocker Marilyn Manson's song “Cake and Sodomy.”

In January, John Schroeder of New Braunfels, Texas, was arrested for violating the city's obscenity display ordinance after he wore the profane T-shirt in a local grocery store.

The ACLU of Texas, representing Schroeder, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, asserting the teen's conduct was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a similar provision in the Texas Constitution.

In its motion, the ACLU also argued there were several “procedural defects” in the complaint. According to the motion, the complaint is “fundamentally defective because it fails to allege with reasonable certainty the acts and circumstances relied upon by the State which constitute the offense of Obscene Display or Distribution.”

The judge agreed there were “procedural defects” with the charges.

Jay Jacobsen, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, explained : “It was all very technical. The judge did not reach the First Amendment issues in granting the motion to quash. Because we were defending our client, we raised a First Amendment issue along with several other issues.

“One of the issues we raised was that the complaint was deficient because it did not provide adequate notice as to why Mr. Schroeder was being charged. All the citation said was 'lewd display.' It did not provide any further information whatsoever.”

Jacobsen said the judge dismissed the case “without prejudice, which means that the prosecutor can refile and bring another action against Mr. Schroeder.”

In regard to underlying First Amendment issues, Jacobsen appeared confident: “It's a win. You can get surprised sometimes, but I definitely think this case is a win.”

Jacobsen also said that “it's almost a foregone conclusion” that the ACLU will file a lawsuit against city officials for Mr. Schroeder's arrest.

Olga Schroeder, mother of the arrested teen, said: “The city doesn't think it's a First Amendment issue. That is an outrage. This is definitely a clear First Amendment issue and has now become a matter of principle.

“I still don't understand why the city officials are so concerned with someone wearing a T-shirt,” she said. “There are much greater societal problems that city officials should be concerned with. My son has been singled out and made a scapegoat.”

City prosecutor Bruce Boyer said: “The motion to quash was well-taken. The complaint did not provide the proper factual allegations. However, a complaint will be refiled with more particularity.

“In this test case, we simply want to let our community speak out one way or the other,” Boyer said. “We want to give a jury from this community the opportunity to define what are the applicable contemporary community standards.”