Culture Wars /

Federal Judge Halts Texas Drag Show Ban

ACLU sued on behalf of drag queens who argued the law violated the First Amendment rights

A federal judge has halted a Texas law that banned drag queen performances in the presence of children, in a move celebrated by LGBTQ rights activists.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner issued a temporary restraining order preventing the enforcement of Senate Bill 12, which sought to ban “sexually oriented performances” in the presence of a person younger than age 18.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation in June. Anyone in violation of the law would be subject to penalties, including up to a year in jail, while businesses hosting performances deemed illegal could be fined $10,000 per violation.

Hittner stated in the decision that “there is a substantial likelihood that S.B. 12 as drafted violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution under one or more of the legal theories put forward by the Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas on behalf of several drag queens, who alleged that SB 12 threatened their livelihoods and censored their freedom of expression.

“This law was obviously unconstitutional from the day it was first proposed, and we are grateful that the court has temporarily blocked it,” Brian Klosterboer, attorney at ACLU of Texas, said in a statement celebrating the court ruling. “Senate Bill 12 is vague, overbroad, and censors free expression. If allowed to take effect, S.B. 12 will make our state less free, less fair, and less welcoming for every artist and performer. This temporary order is a much-needed reprieve for all Texans, especially our LGBTQIA+ and transgender community, who have been relentlessly targeted by our state legislature.”

Following the 14-day temporary restraining order, the court will evaluate whether the law can go into effect.

A day before the injunction was issued, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in Tennessee over a similar law.

“Threatening to enforce this unconstitutional law amounts to a harmful attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life, which is simply unacceptable,” ACLU Tennessee legal director Stella Yarbrough said in a statement. “The court has made it abundantly clear that drag performance is constitutionally protected expression under the First Amendment, regardless of where in the state it is performed.”

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