A 2012 law that prevented animal rights organizations from obtaining undercover videos and photos of factory farm and slaughterhouse conditions, is unconstitutional, a Utah federal judge ruled last week.
The decision to reverse the “ag-gag” law is a major victory for animal rights and animal welfare organizations including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and Amy Meyer, the director of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, who contended in the lawsuit that the ban was a violation of First Amendment free speech protection. U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby agreed.
The ag-gag laws targeted people who took jobs under false pretenses to gain access to the farms in order to document abuses rampant in the industries. The law made it illegal to lie during the interview process to get jobs for purposes of making the secret recordings. It also required gaining permission from the farm or slaughterhouse owner in order to film on the premises – something that would undermine an undercover investigation.
"Utah undoubtedly has an interest in addressing perceived threats to the state agricultural industry," Shelby wrote in his decision, "and as history shows, it has a variety of constitutionally permissible tools at its disposal to do so. Suppressing broad swaths of protected speech without justification, however, is not one of them.”
This was the first lawsuit of its kind filed in the U.S., but the victorious outcome means it will certainly not be the last.
"These unconstitutional laws will fall like dominoes," Stephen Wells, executive director of one of the plaintiffs, The Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. "Ag-gag laws are flagrant attempts to hide animal cruelty from the American people, and they unfairly target activists trying to serve the public's interest."
Several other livestock farming states still have ag-gag laws in effect, including Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina.
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