By Jen Nessel, ccrjustice.org
On September 6, 2017, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Defending Rights & Dissent released a comprehensive report on state ag-gag laws, which prohibit whistleblowing and undercover investigations in animal agriculture. The report, “Ag-Gag Across America: Corporate-backed Attacks on Activists and Whistleblowers,” traces the development of ag-gag legislation; details each existing ag-gag law and discusses the legislative history of its passage. The report also places ag-gag in historical and political context, among broader efforts to criminalize animal rights activism as “eco-terrorism”; explores the constitutional issues inherent in ag-gag laws; and documents several successful campaigns to defeat ag-gag legislation.
“States must not be allowed to shield the disturbing reality of animal agriculture from public scrutiny,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Documenting what actually happens on factory farms is not a crime.”
The enactment of ag-gag legislation has followed the release of video footage, collected by undercover investigators, documenting violence against animals on farms and in slaughterhouses. In Utah, in the course of enacting an ag-gag law, legislators described undercover investigations by animal rights activists as “just another version of domestic terrorism.” In Idaho, the chair of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association told a legislative committee that “[f]arm terrorists” “use media and sensationalism to…declare [producers] guilty in the court of public opinion.”
The report makes clear that ag-gag laws have been pushed through by powerful corporate interests, including members of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and concludes that the laws are unconstitutional. In August 2015, a federal court struck down Idaho’s law as a violation of the First Amendment.
“Ag-gag laws not only make it more difficult to expose animal cruelty or unsafe food; they are at their core an assault on free speech,” said Defending Rights & Dissent Policy and Legislative Counsel Chip Gibbons. “It is unacceptable for lawmakers to side with powerful corporate interests at the expense of peoples’ constitutional rights.”
Ag-gag laws vary, but all include one or more of three key elements: (1) prohibiting documentation of agricultural practices; (2) prohibiting misrepresentations in job applications, utilized to gain access to closed facilities; and (3) requiring immediate reporting of illegal animal cruelty, thus shutting down investigations documenting widespread and systematic violence.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed briefs in several states supporting those challenging the constitutionality of ag-gag laws. For more information, visit CCR’s ag-gag case page and the FAQ page about the report.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. See more at www.CCRJustice.org.