WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — A federal judge on Friday ruled against a new Tennessee law prohibiting sexual performances like drag shows in venues where children are or may be present. Backers of the legislation have called on the state’s Republican attorney general to challenge the decision.
Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed SB 3 into law in March, and it was slated to take effect July 1.
The measure prohibits any “adult cabaret entertainment,” including performances featuring “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers,” or “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” if such entertainment is “on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”
First-time violators face a misdemeanor charge; subsequently, violators risk incurring felony charges and up to six years behind bars.
In a ruling handed down late Friday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker rejected the law, declaring it to be “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”
“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker, who was appointed by former U.S. President Donald Trump, wrote in the 70-page ruling.
“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he said.
According to Parker, the law aimed at shielding children from sexual performances had been implemented “for the impermissible purpose of chilling constitutionally-protected speech.”
The federal judge’s ruling was in favor of arguments made by Memphis-based LGBT theater group Friends of George’s (FOG) which, according to The Hill, “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.”
In a press release, FOG hailed Parker’s ruling as “a triumph.”
However, the bill’s author, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, said the “victory” is “sadly” in favor of “those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment” and criticized the decision as “perplexing.”
“I am disappointed with the judge’s decision on Senate Bill 3, which ignored 60 years of Supreme Court precedent allowing regulation of obscene entertainment in the presence of minors,” Johnson said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“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 continued, pushing back on claims that the law was “overbroad.”
According to Johnson, SB 3 is actually “narrowly tailored to further the compelling interest of the state to protect children from exposure to obscene entertainment.”
Johnson concluded his statement by expressing hope that the state’s Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti “will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit.”
Daily Wire podcast host Matt Walsh, who relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, with the Daily Wire several years ago and has spoken out in the legislature on behalf of a law to protect children from transgender mutilation, similarly called on Srkmetti to appeal the decision.
“The attorney general better appeal it,” Walsh said in a Monday podcast episode. “This is a ridiculous ruling. It’s absolutely absurd and this needs to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”
If it remains unchallenged, the decision regarding Tennessee’s law could impact the staying power of similar laws in other states.
To date, over a dozen states have either passed or considered legislation to protect children from sexual performances like drag shows. In Florida, for example, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed SB 1438, known as the Child Protection Act.
Florida’s law bars venues from allowing children to attend an “adult live performance” defined as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities.”
“We’re protecting kids,” Gov. DeSantis said upon signing the legislation, promising to continue protecting kids even in the face of opposition.