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Heather Hunter


NextImg:Judge puts temporary hold on Tennessee ban on drag shows in front of children

A federal judge in Tennessee temporarily blocked a new state law on Friday that would criminalize drag performances in public or in front of children. The ruling came just hours before the law was set to take effect at midnight.

Judge Thomas Parker issued a temporary restraining order, citing the law as a "vague and overly-broad" restriction to the constitutional protections of freedom of speech.

TENNESSEE BAN ON PUBLIC DRAG SHOWS RAISES LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS

“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,” Parker wrote in his decision.

Parker added that the state has so far failed to provide a “compelling government interest” for why it should regulate drag performances to this extent.

“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a national park? What if a minor browsing the world wide web from a public library views an ‘adult cabaret performance’?” the judge said. “Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints.”

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Drag artist Vidalia Anne Gentry speaks during a news conference held by the Human Rights Campaign to draw attention to anti-drag bills in the Tennessee legislature, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. Legislation is heading to Tennessee’s Republican governor, Thursday, March 2, that would ensure drag shows cannot take place in public or in front of children. Many other states have considered similar bills, but none has acted as fast as Tennessee.(John Amis/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)


Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) signed the legislation into law last month that sought to limit “adult cabaret performances” on public property in order to shield children from viewing the shows. Violators may be subject to a misdemeanor charge carrying up to a $2,500 fine and one year in prison. Repeat offenders could receive a felony and carry one to six years of prison time with fines up to $3,000.


Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based theater company, was the plaintiff and sued to block the law, claiming that the new law “explicitly restrict or chill speech and expression protected by the First Amendment based on its content, its message, and its messenger.”

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

The theater company argued that the law "targets" their drag performers and "unlawfully restricting their expressive conduct not only within the confines of heavily-regulated adult-oriented establishments but virtually anywhere."

The law was set to take effect Saturday.