A U.S. federal judge ruled that a Tennessee law banning drag shows in public or in places where children could view them is unconstitutional, finding that it violates freedom of speech protections.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker said in his ruling that the law, which Gov. Bill Lee (Republican) signed in March, is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”
The law says an “adult cabaret performance” is unlawful if it happens on public property or in a location where the performance “could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” It defines such a performance as one that is harmful to minors and includes topless dancers, “exotic” dancers, strippers and male or female impersonators.
Parker had issued a preliminary injunction at the end of March to block the law from taking effect. He agreed with Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based theater group that produces drag performances, comedy sketches and plays, that the state’s Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) could apply “just about anywhere.”
Friends of George’s argued that the law would violate its free speech and put its members at risk of felony charges over the shows that it has held for years. The group argued that the law is overly broad because it applies to minors of all ages and anywhere that a minor could be.
Parker agreed with the argument, ruling that the AEA was passed “for the impermissible purpose of chilling constitutionally-protected speech.”
He ruled that the state has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, but the law is not the least restrictive nor most narrowly tailored way that it could accomplish this without violating free speech.