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Montana law limiting drag shows is temporarily blocked by a judge



Helena, Montana – A federal judge has temporarily barred the enforcement of new state legislation in Montana that limits drag shows.

In order to prevent the state from implementing House Bill 359 while the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction is being considered, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris issued the temporary restraining order on Friday. He said that if the court doesn’t intervene, there would be constitutional violations and effects on the impending Helena Montana Pride activities.

“[HB 359] contains no carveout for speech or expression with serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” wrote Morris.

On May 22, HB 359 was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, Greg Gianforte. The rule forbids state-funded libraries and schools from holding “drag story hours” during regular business hours or as part of a sanctioned extracurricular activity. Additionally, it outlaws “sexually oriented performances” in front of children, whether they take place in a public space or a commercial establishment, and it outlaws them entirely in places that receive state financing. According to its definition, “sexually oriented” refers to “stripping, salacious dancing,” as well as any other “lewd or lascivious depiction or description.”

Several groups and individuals filed lawsuits earlier this month, claiming that the new law curtailed their freedom of expression and that the bill’s provisions were too ambiguous and put them in an awkward legal situation.

In addition, the plaintiffs claimed that the festivities for Montana Pride scheduled for Helena the following week made a restraining order particularly necessary. Pride organizers warned that they could have to decide between restricting their expression and possibly breaking the new rules.

“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,” stated Morris in the ruling.

Attorneys for the Montana Department of Justice defended the statute at the TRO hearing on Wednesday, saying there was no danger to the plaintiffs of “irreparable harm.” They argued that the enactment of HB 359 was an appropriate course of action and that the state has the right to impose restrictions on certain conduct that may not be explicitly offensive in order to keep kids away from it.

The motion for a longer-term injunction will presumably be heard again at some point in late August.

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