Parker imposed a temporary restraining order that blocks the law from taking effect.
The law (pdf), signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, on March 2 after being approved by GOP legislators, had been set to take effect on April 1.
The law makes it a criminal offense for a person to “perform adult cabaret entertainment” on public property or in a place where it could be viewed by a minor. Adult cabaret entertainment is defined in the law as shows featuring strippers, men dressed as women, and similar entertainers.
Friends of George’s, a nonprofit that holds drag shows in Memphis, sued state officials, alleging the law violated rights granted by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and is discriminatory on the basis of viewpoint.
Tennessee “does not have a compelling interest in preventing minors from watching drag show,” one of the filings from the plaintiffs stated. It also argued that the statute was too vague because “it does not give citizens a reasonable opportunity to know what conduct is prohibited; nor does it give law enforcement explicit standards by which to enforce the law.” Friends of George’s said that it would have to cancel its next production, which is slated to start on April 14, or add an age restriction if the law was not blocked.
State defendants said that the plaintiff had not shown it would be injured by the law because it had not asserted its production would violate the law.
“Plaintiff makes no allegation that it intends to engage in conduct that 2023 Pub. Ch. No. 2 prohibits,” they said.
Parker sided against the state, finding that Friends of George’s “has to try to sell tickets while deciding whether it should add a previously unnecessary age restriction, cancel the show, or risk criminal prosecution or investigation.”
“These are not trifling issues for a theatre company—certainly not in the free, civil society we hold our country to be. Defendants’ approach would have Plaintiff, and those similarly situated in Tennessee, eat the proverbial mushroom to find out whether it is poisonous. The law does not require that for standing,” the judge added.
Parker said that the law is unconstitutionally vague and overboard in part because the law “reaches the conduct of performers virtually anywhere.”
“What exactly is a location on public property or a ‘location where an adult cabaret entertainment could be viewed by a person who is not an adult’?” he wondered. “Does a citizen’s private residence count? How about a camping ground at a national park? What if a minor browsing the worldwide web from a public library views an ‘adult cabaret performance?’ Ultimately, the Statute’s broad language clashes with the First Amendment’s tight constraints.”
The temporary restraining order is in place for 14 days, unless it is extended. Additional hearings in the case will be scheduled soon.
Lee’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. The office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti did not pick up the phone.
“We won because this is a bad law,” Mark Campbell, president of the board of directors for Friends of George’s, said in a statement. “We look forward to our day in court where the rights for all Tennesseans will be affirmed.