Montana Drag Artist Intervention in Public Libraries: Ban Challenge and Temporary Suspension

2023-08-01 13:12:00

In early 2023, a Republican representative from the state of Montana, Braxton Mitchell, suggested a bill to ban interventions of drag artists in the story hours of the state public libraries. On May 22, Governor Greg Gianforte affixed his signature, allowing the application of this legislation.

In July, four plaintiffs challenged the ban, including Chelsia Rice and Charlie Crawford, co-owner of Montana Book Company, a bookstore located within the state capital, Helena. The complaint argued that the law violated the freedom of speech and equal treatment of citizens guaranteed by the US Constitution. More specifically, shesilences the expression of unresponsive people to established standards gender ».

A temporary suspension

Judge Brian Morris followed one of the plaintiffs’ requests by temporarily suspending the application of HB 359, says Publishers Weekly. Indeed, he considered that the latter raised several legal questions as to its application and its impact on the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of some citizens.

Moreover, the 30th edition of Montana Pride, organized from July 30 to August 6 to celebrate the civil rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, would undoubtedly bring to light many issues related to the interpretation and application of this law.

The thirtieth annual Montana Pride is due to begin in less than two days. The plaintiffs, like the 15,000 Montana citizens who plan to attend the event, will not be able to escape restrictions on their free speech or charges of misdemeanors or crimes under HB 359, if a temporary injunction is not issued.

– Federal Judge Brian Morris, July 28, 2023

Last June, a federal judge declared unconstitutional a law targeting drag shows in the state of Tennessee.

When justice gets involved

Over a very short period, the federal justice returned to the ropes – by injunctions of limited duration, but all the same – two laws targeting librarians, booksellers and certain practices related to reading.

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In Arkansas, Act 372, which opened the possibility of legal action against librarians and booksellers for having “provided a document considered dangerous for minors“, was thus suspended, just a few days before its entry into force.

Here too, the federal judge pointed out that the law probably risked twisting the arm of constitutional rights, more precisely those guaranteeing freedom of speech and equality among American citizens.

READ – United States: a new McCarthyism, driven by the reactionary right

Lawyers for the Montana State Department of Justice argued that HB 359 did not pose risks of “irreparable damageagainst the plaintiffs, and that the state had full authority to prohibit certain conduct, including that which would not be genuinely obscene, in order to protect minors, reports KTVH. Without success…

Photograph: Confrontation between proponents and opponents of Drag Story Hours, Baltimore, Maryland, January 2023 (Stephen Melkisethian, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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