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Authors Guild Files Brief to Protect Artistic Freedom and Parental Autonomy in Texas

In June of last year, the Texas legislature enacted a drag ban law that prohibits cities and municipalities from authorizing performances deemed “sexually oriented” on public property or in the presence of an individual under 18 years of age. It also gives the legislature the power to regulate and censor such performances. This misguided legislation violates constitutional free speech rights and sets a dangerous precedent that threatens creative expression by opening the door for government overreach into a wide range of artistic endeavors. A Texas lower court found the law to be unconstitutional in Woodlands Pride v. Paxton, and that decision is now on appeal to the Fifth Circuit.   

On April 17, 2024, the Authors Guild joined forces with the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Fashion Law Institute, and several other free speech organizations to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief arguing that the permanent injunction against enforcing the law must be upheld.

The law, if permitted to go into effect, would establish a system of prior restraint that requires performances to be pre-cleared and allow government entities to interpret what constitutes a “sexually oriented” performance and censor artists accordingly. This could impact a diverse array of artistic expressions, from theatrical plays and musical acts to public readings and beyond. In addition to censoring many performances that do not meet the constitutional standard for obscenity, the vagueness and uncertainty of the law would have a chilling effect on artistic expression in general.

The Authors Guild firmly believes that every individual should have the right to freely express themselves through their chosen medium without fear of government censorship or interference. Systems that require artists to obtain governmental approval before performing or engaging in other forms of protected speech have historically been prohibited as “impermissible prior restraint on speech,” as the lower court found to be the case here.

This misguided law not only infringes upon the rights of performers but also undermines the authority of parents to decide what content is appropriate for their own children. It is the fundamental right of parents, not the government, to determine what their children can and cannot see. By attempting to dictate these decisions, the Texas legislature is overstepping its bounds and intruding upon the autonomy of families.

At its core, this law is a direct assault on the diversity of artistic expression and runs counter to the principles of free speech that form the bedrock of our democratic society. The Authors Guild is committed to fighting this unconstitutional law and defending the right of all individuals to participate in and attend any performance they choose, free from government overreach and censorship. 

Read the amicus brief here.