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Tennessee's anti-drag bill ruled 'unconstitutional' by federal judge, not to be enforced in Shelby County

U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker explained in a 70-page court order why he felt Friends of George's were within their First Amendment rights.

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Tennessee's new anti-drag law cannot be enforced in Shelby County, a federal judge ruled late Friday.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker explained in a 70-page court order why he felt Friends of George's, a nonprofit organization based in Memphis that produces "drag-centric performances, comedy sketches and plays," were within their First Amendment rights. 

"Freedom of speech is not just about speech," Judge Parker wrote. "It is also about the right to debate with fellow citizens on self-government, to discover the truth in the marketplace of ideas, to express one’s identity and to realize self-fulfillment in a free society," Judge Parker wrote. "This case is about one such regulation."

The "Adult Entertainment Act" signed by Governor Bill Lee looked to ban "adult cabaret performances" anywhere children could be present. 

The court had issued a temporary restraining order against the new law — this ruling makes it permanent. 

"The Court finds that — despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on the freedom of speech and PERMANENTLY ENJOINS Defendant Steven Mulroy from enforcing the unconstitutional statute," Judge Parker wrote. 

He said "scores of concerned Tennesseans" had asked the Court to uphold the AEA in order to protect their children. 

Parker said while he recognizes the state's compelling government interest to protect minors, their argument in court "primarily involved a request for the Court to alter the AEA by changing the meaning of “minors” to a “reasonable 17-year-old minor."

"In other words, while its citizens believed this powerful law would protect all children, the State’s lawyers told the Court this law will only protect 17-year-olds," Judge Parker wrote. "This is only one of several ways in which Tennessee asked this Court to rewrite the AEA."

"To rewrite this law would not only violate the separation-of-powers principle, but it would also offer perverse incentives for legislators to continue their troubling trend of abdicating their responsibilities in exercising “considered legislative judgment," he wrote

One of the main advocated for Tennessee's anti-drag law was Williamson County representative Jack Johnson, who weighed in on the ruling via social media.

Meanwhile, Friends of George thanked those who "joined the fight in Tennessee against the unconstitutional attack on drag performances and live theatre." 


After the ruling, congressman Steve Cohen described Judge Parker as "fair-minded" and a "credit to the judiciary and federal branch." 


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