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Federal Judge Rules Tennessee's Ban on Drag Shows For Children is Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that Tennessee’s ban on all-ages drag shows is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Parker wrote in his ruling, “Despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children,” the Adult Entertainment Act ban on minors attending drag shows is an “unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”

The Tennessee law, the first of its kind in the nation, prohibits children from being able to attend “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors…and that feature go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers.”

The legislation also bans drag shows in public spaces. It was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee in March.

Judge Parker’s 70-page ruling also states, “The Court concludes that the AEA violates the First Amendment as incorporated to Tennessee by the Fourteenth Amendment, and it cannot be enforced consistently with the supreme law of the land: the United States Constitution.”

The judge also claimed that the law was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and would encourage “discriminatory enforcement.”

The plaintiff in the case, a Memphis-based drag theater group called “Friends of George’s,” celebrated the ruling.

In a statement about the ruling given to USA Today, Friends of George’s said that the ruling represents a “triumph over hate.”

“Our first amendment rights were affirmed today as drag artists and makers of theatre,” the organization said. “Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry.”

Former President Donald Trump appointed Judge Parker in 2018.

State Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has indicated that he plans to appeal the ruling and only considers it applying to Shelby County, where the lawsuit was aimed.

“The scope of this law has been misrepresented in public by those more interested in pressing a narrative than in reading the statutory text,”Skrmetti said in a statement. “The Adult Entertainment Act remains in effect outside of Shelby County. This narrowly-tailored law protects minors from exposure to sexually explicit performances. Its operative language is rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-established First Amendment precedent. We are reviewing the order and expect to appeal at the appropriate time.”

USA Today reports that Skrmetti “still considers the law to be in effect throughout the state’s other 94 counties despite it being ruled unconstitutional.”

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