A federal judge in Tennessee on Friday temporarily halted the state’s new law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect.
Judge Thomas Parker cited constitutional protections of freedom of speech in issuing a temporary restraining order.
“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution,” Parker wrote.
“The Court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this Statute, it missed the mark,” he wrote.
Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed the novel bill into law March 2. It was set to effect Saturday.
The first-of-its-kind law bans “adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in locations where it could be viewed by a minor.
The law has sometimes been referred to as a drag ban.
Friends of George’s, Inc., which is an LGBTQ theater company based in Memphis, sued over the law and called it unconstitutional.
“This law threatens to force a theatre troupe into a nightclub, because Tennessee legislators believe they have the right to make their own opinions about drag into law,” the theater group argues in its complaint. “Plaintiff’s other option is to proceed as planned, knowing that the Friends of George’s drag performers could face criminal — even felony — charges.”
Supporters say the law safeguards children against exposure to inappropriate entertainment.
The state attorney general’s office, as well as a lawyer from the office listed as representing Lee and Tennessee in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday night.
Friends of George’s tweeted that the restraining order was the first step in an ongoing battle.
“We won because this is a bad law,” Mark Campbell, president of the board of directors of Friends of George’s, said in a statement. He said the group looks forward to its day in court.
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