Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a ruling by a lower court striking down Kansas’ “Ag-Gag” law for violating the First Amendment. The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by a coalition of animal, environmental, and food safety advocacy groups challenging the law’s constitutionality.
The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decisions finding that the laws are unconstitutional and granting the plaintiffs a permanent injunction, thus barring the state from enforcing the Ag-Gag law. The court’s decision held that the three provisions of the Kansas Ag-Gag law at issue targeted speech, not merely conduct, because they regulate what may be permissibly said to gain access to animal agriculture facilities.
The court held that Kansas may not legislate speech in order to silence views critical of animal agriculture. The court’s decision affirms that videos, articles, advocacy, and public dialogue generated by whistleblowing and undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses relate to a matter of public concern.
As recently reported by WAN, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also filed a lawsuit earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, challenging the constitutionality of the recently-passed Iowa Recording Ban.
“The Tenth Circuit has now joined the many other courts that have recognized whistleblowers and undercover investigators at factory farms who generate speech which is at the core of our First Amendment protections. Courts across the country continue to send a clear message to the animal agriculture industry that it cannot infringe on constitutional rights to hide what happens on factory farms,” Cristina Stella, Managing Attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told WAN. “We will continue to fight against any unconstitutional attempts to suppress speech about the treatment of animals in agriculture.”
Kansas has the third largest number of cows of any state. Until being struck down, Kansas’ Ag-Gag law prevented whistleblowers from investigating the conditions that millions of pigs, cows, and chickens endure.
“Kansas has hindered the ability of whistleblowers to expose inhumane conditions associated with factory farms for more than three decades while infringing on First Amendment rights,” Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Executive Director Stephen Wells, said in a statement. “The Tenth Circuit’s decision is a victory for animals throughout the state who are forced into industrial animal agriculture and suffer in secret, behind closed doors.”
Alan Chen, counsel for the Plaintiffs, and Thompson G. Marsh, Alumni Professor of Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law also called the decision a victory “for free speech, for transparency in the animal agriculture industry, and for animals.” As per Chen, “Undercover investigations are crucial to keeping people informed about the frequency of inhumane conditions in which these animals are kept.”
There are nine lawsuits challenging state Ag-Gag laws around the country. Earlier lawsuits have resulted in courts striking down similar laws or portions of laws in Iowa, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Last week, The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for an Animal Legal Defense Fund-led lawsuit challenging the Arkansas law to proceed, while a decision concerning the North Carolina law is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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