A federal judge recently halted the enforcement of a Texas statute that prohibited “sexually oriented” performances in the presence of minors.
Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas declared the law a violation of the First Amendment, asserting that it unlawfully suppressed free speech within the state. This decision obstructs a law endorsed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June, commonly referred to as a “drag ban,” although it pertains to any sexually oriented performance.
“Not all people will like or condone certain performances,” Hittner wrote. “This is no different than a person’s opinion on certain comedy or genres of music, but that alone does not strip First Amendment protection. However, in addition to the pure entertainment value there are often political, social, and cultural messages involved in drag performances which strengthen the Plaintiff’s position.”
Hittner, who was appointed to the judiciary by former President Ronald Wilson Reagan, further argued that the law “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech.” He speculated that other activities, such as cheerleading, dancing or live theater, could potentially be criminalized under this law.
The law detailed that a person controlling a commercial enterprise’s premises could not permit a sexually oriented performance to occur on the premises with an individual younger than 18 years of age present. Violators could face fines of up to $10,000.
“I am relieved and grateful for the court’s ruling,” said Brigitte Bandit, a drag performer who filed a lawsuit to prevent the law’s enforcement. “My livelihood and community has seen enough hatred and harm from our elected officials. This decision is a much needed reminder that queer Texans belong and we deserve to be heard by our lawmakers.”
The law, proposed by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, also prohibited cities or counties from authorizing a sexually oriented performance on public property.
“Surely we can agree that children should be protected from sexually explicit performances. That’s what Senate Bill 12 is about,” Hughes said. Hughes expressed his belief in the law’s constitutionality and its fundamental role in safeguarding children from sexually explicit performances, expressing readiness to defend it up to the Supreme Court if necessary.
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