NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Several Tennessee lawmakers took to Twitter over the weekend to express their opinions after a controversial law restricting some drag shows in the state was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.
Late on Friday, June 2, a federal judge in Shelby County ruled in favor of Friends of George’s Inc. in a lawsuit arguing that the Adult Entertainment Act was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech under the First Amendment.
Friends of George’s Inc. is a Memphis-based LGBTQ nonprofit that produces “drag-centric performance, comedy sketches and plays.” In a statement following the ruling, the nonprofit said the ruling “vindicated” the “rights of performers and playwrights across Tennessee.”
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. Many of its opposers dubbed it as the “anti-drag” law.
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.
Friday’s ruling also included that the law was overly broad stating that the phrase “harmful to minors” remains unconstitutionally vague. The judge ruled that despite the state’s interest in protecting the wellbeing of children, the act is unconstitutional.
Many Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly have since expressed their disappointment in the suit on Twitter. On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson released a statement 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,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson went on to say he hopes Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit, and the ruling will not waver in their efforts of “protecting the children of Tennessee.”
Rep. Monty Fritts (R-Kingston) also expressed his displeasure with the ruling in a tweet on Saturday in which he called the suit “judicial activism.” He further argued that “it is not unconstitutional to attempt to protect children from groomers.”
Republican lawmakers like Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) used similar language in their tweets, with Zachary saying he disagrees with the “judge’s ruling that banning perverse public acts in the presence of children violates free speech.”
“We will continue to take every step necessary to ensure children in our state are not subjected to public acts of perversion,” Zachary continued.
In response to Zachary’s tweet, Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) called out Republican lawmakers, who he said are “refusing to even consider gun safety legislation” while “claiming to prioritize protecting children.”
In recent weeks, at least three Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly have called on Lee to cancel the upcoming special session on public safety set for later in August.
Clemmons also came after Republican lawmakers in a separate tweet stating, “The TN GOP wasted our time and tax dollars yet again.” Other Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) noted that the ruling was predictable.
“Tried to tell my Republican colleagues when they introduced it on the House floor, but yet again they had to FIND OUT,” Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) wrote in a tweet following the ruling.