A federal judge in Montana has temporarily blocked the state law banning drag queen story hours and restricting other drag performances.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris heard the suit against the law Wednesday and issued a brief order Friday granting the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order and barring the state from enforcing it. It comes ahead of Montana Pride, which begins Sunday in Helena, the state capital, and runs through August 6. The plaintiffs had noted that the Pride celebration would start soon and that the law would interfere with the event.
A transgender woman, an independent bookstore, and other individuals and institutions filed the lawsuit in early July against House Bill 359. The legislation took effect immediately when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it into law in May, banning drag story hours at publicly funded schools and libraries and prohibiting any “sexually oriented” performances at those venues or on any public property where children are present. It appears to be the first state law banning drag story hours even if they include no content that could be perceived as sexual — not that such story hours do.
The law “is an unconstitutional content- and viewpoint-based restriction on free speech,” the suit says. It’s also vague and confusing, and it could be construed to ban many types of performances, the suit asserts.
“What today’s hearing really solidified is that nobody seems to know exactly what it says, and with regard to the First Amendment, that is in and of itself a constitutional problem,” said Constance Van Kley, an attorney with Upper Seven Law, a nonprofit law firm representing the plaintiffs, told Helena TV station KTVH Wednesday.
Helena city officials still hadn’t issued a permit for Montana Pride as of then. But they filed a document with the court saying they intended to grant the permit but wanted the temporary restraining order as well.
Attorneys for the state argued that the law isn’t really so vague and that it was proper to limit what kind of performances would be open to children.
Morris will likely schedule a hearing in late August on whether to grant a longer-term injunction against the law, KTVH reports.
Pictured: Drag queens counter anti-drag protesters in Montana.