A federal judge declared a Utah law that banned undercover filming at farm and livestock facilities, unconstitutional, after determining that it violated the First Amendment’s free-speech protections.
Utah’s ag-gag law had made it a crime punishable by imprisonment to photograph or record abuse of animals on factory farms; a clear violation of the public’s right to gather information and speak out on matters of significant public interest.
The case, which was ruled on Friday by Judge Robert J. Shelby, was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and Amy Meyer, the director of the UtahAnimal Rights Coalition who was arrested in 2013 while filming at a slaughterhouse where workers were using heavy machinery to move an ailing cow.
“Four years ago, I stood outside a slaughterhouse in Draper and filmed a sick cow as she was being pushed with a front-end loader, as though she were nothing but a piece of garbage,” UARC Director and plaintiff in the case, Amy Meyer noted on the organization’s website. “I was shocked when I was the one charged with a crime instead of that animal’s abusers. It should never be a crime to tell the story of an animal who is being abused and killed, even if it’s for food. Today’s court ruling is a vindication for anyone who stands up for what’s right and tells the truth.”
U.S. District Judge Robert ruled that the state had failed to demonstrate its position that the ban was enforced to ensure the safety of animals and farm workers. While he acknowledged that Utah does have an interest in protecting the agricultural industry with “a variety of constitutionally permissible tools” available to it, the ban was not one of them.
According to NPR, Shelby rejected the arguments of some of the bill’s sponsors who claimed that the ban was a response to “propaganda groups” and “vegetarian people” who were trying to destroy animal agriculture in the United States.”
As WAN reported in May of this year, Idaho was the first state in the U.S. to call for the reinstatement of an ag-gag law.
The Idaho Legislature previously enacted the law several years ago after animal rights organization Mercy for Animals went undercover and exposed horrific animal abuse at Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho; including employees beating, kicking, jumping on cows and dragging one of the animals by its neck with a chain attached to a tractor.
Mercy For Animals
Passed at the time as an “emergency measure,” the ag-gag law made it illegal to secretly film “agricultural production” with violators facing a $5,000.00 fine and one year in prison.
The law was overturned in 2014 after outraged civil and animal rights organizations, including The Animal Legal Defense Fund, sued on the basis that the questionable legislation was unconstitutional.
The Idaho case is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit after Idaho filed an appeal.
Over the last two decades, at least 16 states have adopted “ag-gag” laws including Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa and North Carolina.