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HomeGeneralFederal Judge Pressured to Declare the Montana Drag Reading Ban Unconstitutional

Federal Judge Pressured to Declare the Montana Drag Reading Ban Unconstitutional

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A group of people, organizations, and businesses are opposing a recently passed Montana law. The law restricts drag performances and bans drag-reading events at public schools and libraries. 

They have asked a federal judge to declare the law unconstitutional without requiring a trial. The plaintiffs argue that the law is a result of legislators motivated by an “irrational and unevidenced moral panic” to target drag performers and the LGBTQ+ community.

The group filed for a summary judgment late last Tuesday. The motions argued there is no dispute about the critical facts of the case.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. According to him, it targets free speech and expression. Morris also said the text of the law and its legislative history “evince anti-LGBTQ+ animus.”

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Morris wrote in the injunction: “No evidence before the Court indicates that minors face any harm from drag-related events or other speech and expression critical of gender norms.”

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The Republican-controlled 2023 Montana Legislature passed the law. Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed it as several states passed laws targeting drag performances. 

Other states made similar moves. However, Montana is the only state to ban people dressed in drag from reading books to kids at public schools. The law stands even if the performance does not include sexual content.

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The plaintiffs claim that the law is unconstitutional and a viewpoint-based speech restriction. They also argue it does not clearly pinpoint what actions will have you in contempt of the law, leading people to censor their own speech out of fear of violating the law.

In response, the state of Montana is arguing that the plaintiffs don’t have any legal claims to make because “the State Defendants have taken no action to enforce or implement” the law, and the plaintiffs have not suffered any harm.

Since the law’s signing on May 22, 2023, there have been a lot of effects.

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On June 1, a transgender who was to give a speech about the history of LGBTQ+ at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library was not allowed to do so. Butte-Silver Bow County officials excused their actions by saying they weren’t sure if holding the speech in the library would violate the law. 

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The plaintiffs have also had to modify or cancel events to avoid violating the law, court records state. The law was first blocked by a temporary restraining order on July 28 just so Montana Pride could hold its 30th-anniversary celebration in Helena. 

The city initially said it wasn’t sure it could issue a permit for the event because of the new law. The state maintains that the law is to protect children from “indecent and inappropriate conduct” that is harmful to them. 

There are also Montana laws that protect minors from exposure to obscenities.

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