Federal judge rules Tennessee ban on drag shows around children unconstitutional

A Trump-appointed federal judge has ruled that Tennessee’s recently enacted law essentially banning drag shows for kids is unconstitutional.

“As a matter of text alone, the (Adult Entertainment Act) is a content, and viewpoint-based restriction on speech. The AEA was passed for the impermissible purpose of chilling constitutionally-protected speech,” U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Parker said in a 70-page ruling issued this past Friday.

Parker also called the law “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.” In addition, he barred the district attorney of Shelby County — the defendant in the case — from enforcing the law.

The ruling comes three months after a Memphis nonprofit that reportedly produces drag shows and comedy sketches sued on the basis that the law violates its free speech rights.

Parker initially responded by issuing a temporary injunction on the basis that the law likely did indeed violate free speech rights.

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. The Court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this Statute, it missed the mark,” he ruled at the time, according to NBC News.

Dovetailing back to the present, the nonprofit, Friends of George’s, was pleased by Friday’s ruling:

In a statement, Friends of George’s president Mark Campbell (aka Camille Collins) praised the nonprofit for having chosen “to take a stand against bigotry to defend drag artistry and our right to creative expression.”

“The stage should remain a sacred platform where actors and performers can inspire others in a shared space. Our country is built on the bedrock of free speech, and the court affirmed this right through today’s decision. We will keep advocating for our fellow drag performers and for the well-being of the entire LGBTQ+ community,” he said.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was also pleased:

Passed by the GOP-led Tennessee General Assembly, the law in question “sought to limit ‘adult cabaret performances’ on public property to shield children from viewing them, threatening violators with a misdemeanor and repeat offenders with a felony,” according to CNN.

“The ban specifically included ‘male or female impersonators’ who perform in a way that is ‘harmful to minors.’ It had been set to go into effect April 1,” CNN reported Saturday.

In defending the law, Tennessee officials reportedly stressed that the ban was just for drag shows targeting kids — and not for all drag shows, period.

Parker, to his credit, acknowledged the state’s “compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children,” though he ultimately ruled against the law because it’s “an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has for his part vowed to appeal the ruling “at the appropriate time.”

“The scope of this law has been misrepresented in public by those more interested in pressing a narrative than in reading the statutory text,” he said in a statement following Friday’s ruling.

“The Adult Entertainment Act remains in effect outside of Shelby County. This narrowly-tailored law protects minors from exposure to sexually explicit performances. Its operative language is rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-established First Amendment precedent,” he added.

He was right about the law currently remaining in effect outside of Shelby County.

But there’s a catch.

“Because the state’s attorney general cannot enforce the law in Shelby County, any subsequent attempts to enforce the ban in other parts of the state would likely be immediately and successfully challenged in court, attorneys said,” according to The Commercial Appeal, a Memphis newspaper.


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