Even as Idaho joins a handful of other states in passing an ‘ag gag’ bill to criminalize unauthorized recording of livestock operations, the law may not last long on appeal.
The most recent state to pass a so-called “ag gag” law is facing a legal challenge to the measure’s constitutionality.
The measure, which was signed into law by Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter in February, made Idaho the seventh state in the nation to enact similar legislation.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law — Idaho Code sec. 18-7042 — was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho by activist groups, including PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and the Center for Food Safety, according to a story in the Wisconsin Gazette.
The legal brief argued that the Constitution “protects free speech and freedom of the press, including journalistic exposés of industrial animal production.”
As the Animal Legal Defense Fund phrased it, the plaintiffs are “a coalition of organizations dedicated to civil liberties, animal protection, food safety, labor rights and the environment, along with journalists.”
Oh, yeah, journalists. You know, those guys activists call on when they want their news releases published.
Trust me, this lawsuit isn’t about freedom of the press. It’s about animal rights. Both PETA and the ALDF proudly position their organizations as “pushing the boundaries of the law” to ensure humane treatment of animals, their definition of “humane,” that is. Their mission statements don’t say peep about journalism.
But here’s the thing: I kind of agree with them. Not on the animal abuse part, but on the “pushing the boundaries of the law” part.
Because although the ag gag laws are aimed at protecting private property rights — and that’s totally legitimate — they run up against First Amendment protections. As is true with any other business that has been legally incorporated, the public does have a “right to know” whether laws are being broken, whether environmental damage might be occurring, whether labor laws are being violated or whether any of a myriad of potentially serious infractions that could impact the public welfare are occurring.
Like the other ag gag statutes, Idaho’s new law criminalizes undercover activities at livestock production sites and specifically targets animal rights advocates, even if they’re exposing illegal practices. For instance, the law makes it illegal for anyone to take any photos or videos at a feedlot, hog barn or packing plant without the business owner’s express consent. If convicted, a person can be sentenced to a maximum of a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.