By Cameron Rasmusson
The Idaho state government suffered a major legal defeat today with a federal court striking down its controversial “ag-gag” law.
The Boise Weekly reports that the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho ruled against the controversial 2014 law Monday, saying it “violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was motivated in substantial part by animus towards animal welfare groups, and because it impinges on free speech, a fundamental right.”
“The remedy for misleading speech, or speech we do not like, is more speech, not enforced silence,” wrote Judge B. Lynn Winmill in the ruling.”The Court finds that [the Ag-Gag law] violates the First Amendment.”
A broad coalition of animal rights and civil liberty organizations, including local group Sandpoint Vegetarians, was instrumental in fueling the effort to overturn the law.
“If [these farms] had nothing to hide, [whistle-blowers] wouldn’t concern them,” Sandpoint Vegetarians co-founder Eric Ridgway told the Reader when we wrote about the ag-gag law in February.
The ag-gag bill effectively criminalized any documentation of Idaho factory farm operations, a law particularly targeting journalists and animal rights advocates seeking to expose instances of cruelty or unhealthy practices. Those prosecuted for recording audio or video with “the intent to cause economic injury” at any agricultural facility could be punished with an up-to-$5,000 fine and a year of imprisonment. Compare that to Idaho’s animal cruelty law, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail for first-time offenders.
The court ruling is a big victory for animal rights groups like Mercy For Animals, whose activities prompted the law in the first place. In 2012, group members secured employment at one of Idaho’s largest dairy farms, Dry Creek Dairy. Over the course of a few weeks, they recorded video of cows being beaten, whipped, kicked and even sexually molested.
One of the key points in Winmill’s ruling against the law centered on the fact that while agricultural recordings may take place on private property, food production is far from a strictly private issue. It’s a point that recalls those made by Sandpoint Vegetarians co-founder Stephen Augustine when we talked to him in February.
“The way I see it, farms are producing products for consumption by the public,” he said. “Why is it not acceptable to be able to record how that food is produced?”
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