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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
3 Jun 2023

NextImg:Tennessee Bill Banning Drag Shows in Front of Children Unconstitutional: Federal Judge

The Tennessee law that prohibits drag shows in front of children is unconstitutional, a U.S. judge ruled on June 2.

The Adult Entertainment Act “is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, a Trump appointee, said in the ruling.

The law makes it a criminal offense for a person to “perform adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in a place where it could be viewed by a minor. Adult cabaret entertainment is defined in the law as shows featuring strippers, men dressed as women, or similar entertainers.

The law was signed by Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on March 2 after being approved by the state legislature but was blocked before taking effect by Parker, who imposed a temporary restraining order after finding the law was “likely both vague and overly broad.”

In the new ruling, Parker said the law indeed violated the constitutional rights of Friends of George’s, a nonprofit that holds drag shows in Memphis and allows children to attend, even though the nonprofit acknowledged its performances could be sexual to the point of being similar to the PG-13 rating for movies.

In one play, for instance, characters “portrayed sexual acts,” meaning it could be interpreted as being in violation of the law, the judge said.

Parker zeroed in on the standard outlined for “harmful to minors,” a standard state law defines as “U.S. District Judge Thomas Parkerany description or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence or sadomasochistic abuse when the matter or performance” would “appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful or morbid interests of [minors],” was “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors,” and “taken as whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific values for minors.”

That standard “applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement,” Parker ruled. He also said the law was “substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor could be present.”

The ruling enjoins Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy from enforcing the law.

The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Sen. Jack Johnson, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement: “I’m disappointed with the judge’s decision on Senate Bill 3, which ignored 60 years of Supreme Court precedent allowing regulation of obscene entertainment in the presence of minors. Sadly, this ruling is a victor for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment.”

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit—but not obscene—speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” Parker wrote in his ruling.

Johnson added, “Despite the court’s perplexing reading of the law, I am confident—and have always been—that this legislation does nothing to suppress the First Amendment.

Tennessee officials should appeal Parker’s ruling, the lawmaker also said.

Neither Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti nor Lee has reacted to the ruling.

“WE WON!” Friends of George’s said in a statement. The nonprofit, which describes itself as a theater company that “produces original theatrical content for the LGBTQ+ community and its friends and allies” with the goal of raising money for other nonprofits, thanked supporters. [delete]

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also cheered the ruling.

“Every anti-LGBTQ elected official is on notice that these baseless laws will not stand and that our constitutional freedom of speech and expression protects everyone and propels our culture forward,” the group said in a statement.

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