NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A controversial law that restricted some drag shows in Tennessee was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Memphis late Friday night, according to court records.
On Friday, June 2, a federal judge in Shelby County ruled in favor of Friends of George Inc., a Memphis-based LGTBQ nonprofit that produces “drag-centric performance, comedy sketches and plays.”
In a lawsuit, the nonprofit organization argued that the Adult Entertainment Act was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech under the First Amendment.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Bill Lee in early March, prohibited “adult cabaret entertainment” from being performed in public or where they could be seen by children.
After the law was granted with the governor’s signature, it was expected to go into effect on April 1. However, on March 31, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the law hours before it was set to go into effect.
The temporary restraining order prohibited Lee, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, and Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy from enforcing what many dubbed as the “anti-drag” law.
Republican lawmakers who supported and sponsored the legislation have repeatedly said the law is not meant to be anti-LGBTQ or meant to target drag performances.
“It’s not a drag show bill. It’s a bill about saying we’re not going to have sexually explicit, adult-themed entertainment in front of kids, whether it’s someone who’s dressed in drag or not,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R—Franklin).
In the ruling, Judge Thomas Parker, a Trump appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, wrote that the state has asked the court several times to rewrite the act. The judge ruled that rewriting the act would violate the separation-of-powers principle.
“The Tennessee General Assembly can certainly use its mandate to pass laws that their communities demand,” wrote Parker. “But that mandate as to speech is limited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which commands that laws infringing on the Freedom of Speech must be narrow and well-defined. The AEA (Adult Entertainment Act) is neither.”
The ruling also included that the the law was overly broad stating that the phrase “harmful to minors” remains unconstitutionally vague.
Parker ruled that despite the state’s interest in protecting the wellbeing of children, the act is unconstitutional and restricts on freedom of speech.
In a statement, Johnson expressed his disappointment in the suit saying the judge’s ruling ignored 60 years of Supreme Court precedent.
“Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment. Despite the Court’s perplexing reading of the law, I am confident – and have always been – that this legislation does nothing to suppress the First Amendment,” said Johnson.
Johnson went on to say he hopes the attorney general will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit, and the ruling will not waver in their efforts of “protecting the children of Tennessee.”
Friends of George’s also issued a statement saying that the ruling stood in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community.
“Friends of George’s stood up not just for drag queens and the LGBTQIA+ community. They stood up for the rights of performers and playwrights across Tennessee. The District Court’s ruling has vindicated those rights, reminding government that it cannot use its power to silence the voices of the people,” wrote the nonprofit.
It remains unclear how the ruling will affect upcoming pride events occurring in Tennessee.