In a recent development, a federal judge rendered a decision against a Tennessee statute aimed at safeguarding minors from exposure to sexually explicit performances. U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker deemed the regulation, which sought to prevent minors from witnessing “adult cabaret” shows, including sexually graphic drag performances, as “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”
While acknowledging that the First Amendment does not protect obscenity, Judge Parker emphasized the distinction between material deemed obscene in common parlance and material deemed obscene under the law. He pointed out that no Supreme Court majority has ever ruled that sexually explicit yet non-vulgar speech is less protected than political, artistic, or scientific speech.
Furthermore, Judge Parker, who previously served under President Donald Trump, expressed concerns about the potential for discriminatory enforcement that the rule would enable.
According to a summary of the law, signed by Governor Bill Lee, the offense created by the statute pertains to individuals engaging in adult cabaret performances on public property or in locations where such performances could be viewed by non-adults. The law specifically includes “male or female impersonators” within the category of adult cabaret performances.
The Friends of George’s, an LGBTQ theater company based in Memphis, lodged a complaint challenging the law, which led to its review by Judge Parker.
The ruling on Senate Bill 3 was disheartening, as it contradicted six decades of Supreme Court precedent that allowed for the regulation of obscene entertainment involving minors. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), the bill’s originator, lamented the verdict, characterizing it as a victory for those advocating the exposure of children to sexual entertainment. Johnson expressed his hope that Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti would file an appeal to contest the decision.
Undeterred by the court’s interpretation of the law, Johnson affirmed his commitment to “protect the children of Tennessee,” reiterating his belief that the legislation does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.
In response to videos surfacing last year showing youngsters present at sexually explicit drag shows, some politicians in Texas and other states have introduced new laws. Most recently, Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed a bill aimed at preventing young people from witnessing sexually explicit acts.
The ruling by Judge Parker carries implications for the ongoing debate surrounding the regulation of sexually explicit performances involving minors, and it remains to be seen how this legal battle will unfold in the future.