PETA and Kansas State Fair head to court

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A federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that accuses the Kansas State Fair of violating the animal rights group’s free speech rights.

PETA filed the suit this week, naming the Kansas State Fair Board, the state of Kansas and the fair’s general manager, Denny Stoecklein, as defendants. The hearings will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

 At issue is a 13-minute video called Glass Walls that PETA wants to show at its booth at the Kansas State Fair, which begins on Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 16. The video shows images from undercover videos shot at slaughterhouses and farms. PETA describes the video, narrated by ex-Beatle and vegetarian Paul McCartney, as “gruesome.”

The Kansas State Fair told PETA that it can’t show a video or pictures “that depict animal slaughter, animal harvest, hide removal, or show or depict live animals being decapitated, dismembered or butchered.” The fair board further instructed that any such images must “not be readily visible to passersby or the general public on any side of the booth.”

PETA argues the content-based restrictions violate its free speech rights because the fair is a public forum. The Kansas attorney general's office contends the restrictions are lawful and has vowed to zealously defend fair officials. The sides will argue on whether to grant a restraining order blocking enforcement of the restrictions.

Last year, PETA attempted to exhibit similar booth at the State Fair of Texas but was denied. PETA’s exhibit first appeared at this year’s Iowa State Fair where an issue surfaced not so much with the video’s imagery, but with the audio. As fair organizers stated “four-letter words are not allowed in fair exhibits.” Rather than agree to a compromise solution PETA removed its own booth from the fairgrounds. It was allowed to return after it addressed the word usage.

At the Colorado State Fair, PETA had an anti-4-H display that focused on its four H’s—which stood for  "Hell for animals," "Heart attack–inducing," "Hazard to the environment," and "Hypocritical for teaching kids to care about only certain animals and to disrespect others." It also displayed the video.

In the Kansas suit, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas and Western Missouri is representing PETA free of charge, along with Kansas City law firm Copilevitz & Canter. As PETA reported, Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said, "I've never seen anything like this—this is a classic content-based restriction on what the speaker can say, which I think is unconstitutional."

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, Wichita, Kan., will preside over the hearing on PETA’s request for the court to block the restrictions placed on its Kansas State Fair booth. Marten has been called a staunch defender of the First Amendment.

Judge Marten was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, and has a record that shows an unwavering deference to free speech rights.

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Illinois  |  August, 31, 2012 at 04:29 PM

Peta needs to grow up, if they really wanted have a booth, then be respectful of others. They have such a " our way or no way" people are sick of them!

Derby  |  August, 31, 2012 at 08:06 PM

You're right! I don't want my kids seeing gruesome images, I'll take them to the Pro-Life booths so they can see wholesome images without restriction.

Nebraska  |  September, 01, 2012 at 01:52 PM

What is PETAs problem, they cost the industry huge financial burdens and increase the cost of food for the consumer. It is time to let PETA know the harm they are doing to the consumer and producers.

Kansas  |  September, 01, 2012 at 04:01 PM

What's next? An exhibit with a video of people being executed? Are there no lines? There are better ways to be persuasive.

kansas city MO  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:00 AM

Free speech is free speech, and part of the whole American picture, same as any actions depicted on the PETA screens. Citizens cannot choose who gets to say publicly what because we like it or dont like it, or feel it increases costs etc as someone suggested. We all know this. But lets admit the irony here: do we loathe to see ourselves doing what we do to animals everyday? Are we secretly ashamed? If so, we should rethink our actions (re animals), not PETA's. However, and if not ashamed, we should accept there is little about the handling of animals for food that is visually appealing. Same for the sanitation industry. There are many unsavory jobs out there. But this doesnt make them obscene; only our reactions to PETA's tactics accomplish PETA's goal of embarrassing or trying to shame a sector in expose fashion. In other words, we decide their success. In my view, PETA should be given an even larger screen at the Fair, say even their very own tent if you get my drift, and maybe a very professional demonstration of proper butcher/culinary techniques should be held in the adjacent booth. In other words, spin what they suggest is horrific, into an unabashed understanding that animals feed billions, it's a bonafide vocation constantly improving and delicious food preparation is a joyful pursuit and occupation for many. However, as long as the images are not fabricated, PETA should be allowed this at a state fair open to all.

SD  |  September, 17, 2012 at 06:29 PM

Not only that they claim to be there for animals but end up killing 95% of the rescues, they only want to make money. They complain about hunters, but yet don't provide a cent to pay for the lands they want the animals to roam, hunters do. And really is the goverment going to pony up 300mill to pay for the bald eagles nesting area? I think not. If not the government, then will PeTa, very unlikly since they have given a penny anyway. They are hypocrites and are only there to spread hate not help animals.

I loathe peta and you do too    
Illinois  |  January, 10, 2013 at 03:14 PM

Believe it or not the four H's in peta's 4-H ripoff are an accurate description of People Eating Tasty Animals (or Pathetic Egotistical Tyrants for Animals or whatever you want to call them): Hellish visual imagery, Heart-attack-inducing publicity stunts, Hazardous to young minds, Hypocritically killing animals while attacking people who kill animals! People Eating Tasty Animals: The village idiot of animal advocacy since 1980

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