Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A Federal Court ruled this week that a Kansas law making it illegal to film animal abuse on factory farms violates the First Amendment: “The prohibition on taking pictures at an animal facility regulates speech for First Amendment purposes… The law plainly targets negative views about animal facilities and therefore discriminates based on viewpoint.”
As I posted earlier this week, the First Amendment also protects animals in pounds, including the right to photograph inhumane conditions there, too. Like agriculture gag laws, policies in pounds to prevent volunteers from speaking out on social media about what they see or to sign non-disclosure agreements are designed to protect cruelty in order to prevent reform.
Thankfully, courts are consistently ruling against factory farms, against regressive pound managers, against others — like PETA — that also engage in killing, and in favor of those who speak for animals. Kansas is the fourth state to have its law overturned on free speech grounds. Utah, Idaho, and Iowa also had their agriculture “gag” laws struck down as unconstitutional.
In a victory for anyone who has spoken out on behalf of animals mistreated, abused, and killed in city pounds, moreover, two Federal Courts of Appeal ruled last year that public officials, including the President of the United States, cannot censor comments or block individuals on their official social media pages for criticizing them and their policies: “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who uses a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”
And a California court rejected PETA’s argument that as an animal advocate, I was not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment when I gathered information to expose their killing, including the theft and killing of a family’s dog.
There were other victories. We forced the Mayor of Long Beach to cease violating the constitutional rights of reformers. Mayor Robert Garcia has been hiding Facebook comments critical of his handling of Long Beach Animal Care Services — an agency with low adoption and unacceptable levels of killing — from public view, actions that were not only morally reprehensible, but unconstitutional and therefore, illegal.
And a Pueblo City Councilmember tried, but failed thanks to the First Amendment, to intimidate citizens, reporters, and advocates of humane sheltering policies from challenging her on her defense of killing at the local pound.
Animals have no voice of their own and need others to speak for them. Regardless of whether it is a billion dollar company that profits on the abuse and killing of animals for food, a pound director who finds killing easier than doing the work necessary to stop it, an organization like PETA that rounds up to kill animals, a city councilmember, a mayor, or the President engaging in conduct that undermines our humane values, we cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence. The stakes are too high.
The First Amendment gives us the protection we need to continue speaking out and fighting for reform.
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