A federal judge on Friday paused a Montana law that bans drag performers from hosting children’s story hours at public libraries and bars “sexually oriented shows” on public property that can be seen by minors.
In his opinion issuing the temporary restraining order, Judge Brian Morris said at least some of the speech regulated by the law has First Amendment protections and warned that the measure “likely will disproportionately harm not only drag performers, but any person who falls outside traditional gender and identity norms.”
The order prohibits Montana’s Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen from enforcing the measure, which is among other restrictive laws targeting drag performers enacted in GOP-led states, while the court considers whether to issue a longer lasting preliminary injunction.
Montana Pride asked the judge earlier this month for an immediate order because the city of Helena had denied its request for a permit for its events, some of which include drag performers, that are scheduled to start Sunday. The city, according to the order, supports the organization’s application, but fears legal liability.
Noting that Montana Pride has been around for three decades, Morris said, “Nothing in the record currently before the Court indicates that speech and expression associated with Montana Pride has harmed minors or any other community members.”
Montana Pride organizers responded on Facebook Friday, saying, “In case you were wondering, EVERY EVENT IS HAPPENING!!”
Knudsen’s spokesperson, Emily Flower, told CNN in a statement Friday, “We look forward to presenting our written response and full argument at the upcoming preliminary injunction hearing to defend the law and protect minors from sexually oriented performances.”
Signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in May, House Bill 359 keeps children from attending “sexually oriented shows.” These events include so-called drag story hours, which the law defines as events hosted “by a drag queen or drag king who reads children’s books and engages in other learning activities with minor children present.”
The measure also bans public “sexually oriented performances” – including any involving “removal or simulated removal of clothing in a sexual manner” – seen by people under the age of 18.
Other plaintiffs in the case include a transgender indigenous author, Adria Jawort, who said a talk she was scheduled to give at a public library in Butte-Silver Bow last month was canceled because the librarian informed her, “It is too much of a legal risk to have a transgendered person in the library.”
Two independent movie theaters joined the suit, claiming that the law could be interpreted to prohibit them from showing films that contain “sexually oriented performances,” since even R-rated films can be legally seen by 17-year-olds and younger minors, if accompanied by parents. Both theaters are subject to the new law since they receive state funds.
CNN reached out for comment Friday to attorneys for other defendants in the case, including the chief executive of Butte-Silver Bow and the City of Helena.
While other laws clamping down on drag performances sailed through GOP-led state legislatures this year, they quickly met legal opposition.
In June, a federal judge temporarily blocked a Florida state law that opponents claim targets drag shows. That measure allows Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to take away licenses from establishments if they allow children into an “adult live performance.” That same month, a federal judge ruled that a Tennessee law limiting the shows represented an “unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”