Idaho law carried a 1-year jail penalty and up to $5,000 fine for first offenders.
Idaho lawmakers passed the “ag gag” law to stop the secret recording of livestock abuse like this. (Warning: Graphic Footage)
Idaho’s pro-agribusiness law that barred the secret recording of livestock has been deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge who ruled that the so-called “ag gag” law violated the First Amendment.
The decision, if it survives on appeal, threatens similar laws in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and Utah. A North Carolina law takes force in January. Idaho’s law carried a maximum one-year jail penalty and up to a $5,000 fine for first offenders for filming or audio recording at a farm without the owner’s consent.
It was challenged by several animal-rights groups. Monday’s decision marks the first time one of these laws has been declared unconstitutional.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the group hopes the Idaho decision snowballs. “This Idaho decision is just the first step in defeating similar ag gag laws across the country,” the group said in a statement.
Idaho lawmakers approved the measure in 2014, two years after the release of a video showing workers at an Idaho dairy abusing cows at Bettencourt Dairies in Hansen. The video, produced by Mercy for Animals of Los Angeles, showed dairy workers beating, stomping, and dragging cows.
“Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho’s agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech,” US District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled. (PDF)
Here are some other selected quotes from the ruling:
Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored. Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistleblowers from recording an agricultural facility’s operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.
The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.
The measure was drafted, in part, by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
“The legislation was designed and crafted to try and protect First Amendment rights while also trying to provide some personal property protection,” Bob Naerebout, the association’s director, told National Public Radio.
The group said it will push for Idaho to appeal the ruling. The state attorney general has been mum on whether it will ask the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision.