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Utah law preventing filming of animal rights abuses challenged in court

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cows (branislavpudar shutterstock)
cows (branislavpudar shutterstock)

A coalition of animal rights groups are looking to get Utah’s law banning the recording of agricultural facilities without consent taken off the books. PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and others filed suit in a Utah district court alleging that the controversial “ag gag” law violates the First Amendment, the Supremacy Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.

Laws like the one in Utah are used by the agribusiness industry to prevent public relations fiascos like the one faced by Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in 2007. Undercover video of sick “downer” cattle being forced to slaughter with forklifts and cattle prods led to the largest beef recall in US history and bankrupted the plant. Last year, animal rights activist Amy Meyer was the first to be charged under the new Utah law after filming a downer cow being pushed with a bulldozer outside a Utah slaughterhouse. She was later acquitted after it was found that she had been filming from public property.

The crime of "agricultural operation interference" restricts critical speech

This suit, which includes Meyer in its list of plaintiffs, is the first to challenge the Utah law, arguing that the crime of "agricultural operation interference" restricts critical speech about practices that are vital to the public interest, and makes it difficult to enforce existing federal law. They also argue that it's "motivated by animus toward a politically unpopular group — animal rights activists," allegedly violating the Fourteenth Amendment. But as the Utah law's constitutionality stands to be reconsidered, the spread of “ag gag” laws throughout the rest of the country doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Mother Jones reports that similar laws have been enacted in eight states and introduced in 15 others.