A new lawsuit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Ag-Gag law; a law that prohibits undercover investigations that expose abuses at factory farms and other businesses throughout the state.
Earlier lawsuits have resulted in courts striking down similar laws in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Iowa. Litigation remains ongoing in North Carolina, Kansas and Iowa, where state lawmakers recently passed a second Ag-Gag law after the first was struck down.
In Arkansas, the Ag-Gag law is especially far-reaching. Not only does the law allow agricultural businesses to sue whistleblowers
who expose the cruel conditions that animals endure in factory farms, it also bans undercover investigations of virtually all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. Whistleblowers could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars just for exposing the truth.
Yesterday’s challenge is the first Ag-Gag case in which private entities are the defendants. One of the defendants is DeAnn Vaught, the lawmaker who sponsored the law. Legislators in Arkansas explained that they hoped to prevent judicial review of the law by exclusively providing companies the right to enforce the law’s civil penalties.
Through this lawsuit, the plaintiff (public interest group) seeks a declaratory judgment that Arkansas’ Ag-Gag law is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. They also seek to enjoin the defendants from using the law against the groups who investigate the defendants’ on factory farms.
“Undercover investigations are a valuable tool in exposing the cruel conditions for animals in factory farms, and federal courts have already ruled they are protected under the First Amendment,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells, said in a statement. “Transparency is critical for protecting animals, workers, food safety and the environment. Moreover, it’s a waste of public money for states to pass and defend these laws.”
“Having seen our success in continually striking down these laws that criminalize or inhibit undercover investigations at factory farms and other facilities, Arkansas drafted this law with the goal of preventing courts from stopping the state’s unconstitutional conduct and thereby expand their unlawful chill on free speech,” said Public Justice Food Project Senior Attorney David Muraskin. “The First Amendment is still on our side, and we expect this law to fall as well.”
The ability to investigate, document and publicize corporate agriculture’s abuses is imperative to the well-being of workers and animals across the nation, and to public health and safety. Factory farms want to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public. But the public deserves the truth about the billions of animals suffering on industrial farms, including the working conditions that produce lifelong crippling injuries, and the environmental pollution that is endangering species and degrading air and water quality.
Undercover investigations have revealed severe animal abuse on factory farms — animals subjected to horrific violence, psychological and mental anguish, and painful deaths. These investigations have exposed standard industry practices like line speeds that move so fast workers are splashed with contaminants and regularly develop repetitive stress injuries. The investigations have also revealed the confinement of pregnant and nursing pigs in crates too small for them to turn around, the removal of horns and tails from animals without anesthesia, and sick and downed cows dragged on the ground before they are slaughtered for lunchmeat.
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