U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker has issued a temporary restraining order blocking a law signed by Governor Bill Lee (R., Tenn.) penalizing those who host or participate in drag show performances where minors are present.
“Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a national park? What if a minor browsing the worldwide web from a public library views an ‘adult cabaret performance’?” the federal judge said in his ruling publicized on Friday.
Judge Parker noted that while the move represents an “extraordinary remedy,” given the circumstances, he “does not take such actions lightly.”
“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.”
“Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints,” the federal judge concluded.
In late February, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that prohibited the hosting of drag shows in public venues where minors might be present.
Anyone who hosted or performed in the presence of children could 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 new 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.
The White House later called the legislation “not just unnecessary” but also “dangerous” upon Governor Lee signing it into law in early March.
During the White House news briefing, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre blasted the law and suggested elected officials who are concerned with curtailing drag shows are overlooking more important issues that Americans should be focused on.
“Instead of doing anything to address those real issues that are impacting American people right now, you have a governor from Tennessee who has decided to go after drag shows. What sense does that make, to go after drag shows?” Jean-Pierre added.
“It’s part of a larger pattern from elected officials who espouse freedom and liberty but apparently think that freedom of speech only extends to people who agree with them.”
Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBT theater group, filed the lawsuit challenging the new law.
Friends Of George's was successful in the obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order, which means that the "drag ban" will NOT go into affect at midnight tonight. This is a terrific first step in an ongoing battle. https://t.co/1Nf2TgOygF pic.twitter.com/WKvIO9jaqy
— Friends of George's (@GeorgesShowtime) April 1, 2023
The organization applauded the ruling on Friday night calling it a “terrific first step in an ongoing battle.”