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National Review
National Review
3 Jun 2023
Brittany Bernstein

NextImg:Federal Judge Rules Tennessee Drag Ban Is Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Friday that a Tennessee law banning drag performances in public venues is “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

The legislation makes it illegal to host “an adult cabaret performance” in public venues or where children may be present. Cabaret performances are defined as those featuring “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, [and] male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”

Anyone who hosts or performs in a drag show in the presence of children would be charged with a class A misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in prison under the law. Additional violations would be escalated to a class E felony and carry one-to-six years of prison time and fines up to $3,000.

Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based theater group that produces drag shows and other performances, challenged the law, arguing it would violate the group’s free speech and put its members at risk of felony charges. The group also said the law is overly broad and could apply “just about anywhere.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued a preliminary injunction at the end of March to temporarily top the law from taking effect.

In his ruling on Friday, Parker found the law was passed “for the impermissible purpose of chilling constitutionally-protected speech.” While he found the state has a compelling interest in protecting the well-being of minors, the judge said the law is not narrow enough to accomplish the state’s goals without violating free speech.

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Friends of George’s celebrated the ruling in a Twitter post on Saturday morning.

The law was set to take effect on July 1. The Tennessee attorney general could appeal the case to a higher court.

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