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The Courts News

Idaho Law Against Recording Abuses On Factory Farms Ruled Unconstitutional 363

onproton writes: An Idaho law that made it illegal to record and document animal abuse or dangerous hygienic practices in agricultural facilities, often referred to as an 'ag-gag' law, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge on Monday. The judge concluded that the law restricted constitutionally protected free speech, and contradicted "long-established defamation and whistleblowing statutes by punishing employees for publishing true and accurate recordings on matters of public concern." Idaho is just one of several states to pass this type of law, which allow food production facilities to censor some unfavorable forms of speech at their convenience. Under the Idaho statute, an employee that witnessed and recorded an incident, even if it depicted true and life-threatening health or safety violations, could be faced with a year in jail and fines of up to "twice the economic loss the owner suffers." In his ruling (PDF), the judge stated that this was "precisely the type of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect." This decision has raised questions about the constitutionality of these types of laws in other states as well, and it's likely that there will be more legal battles ahead.
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Idaho Law Against Recording Abuses On Factory Farms Ruled Unconstitutional

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  • A judge that rules in favor of righteousness. Impressive!
  • How?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maugle ( 1369813 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:08AM (#50255519)
    How were these clearly bogus laws voted in, in the first place? It seems pretty obvious that documenting health/safety violations would be protected from legal retaliation, much like how truth is an absolute defense against libel charges. Otherwise, there's no point to even having health or safety codes, if corporations can just say "yeah yeah, we're up to code, but no peeking!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, what a waste of time and money first getting this law passed and then to strike it down.

      There ought to be a penalty for a legislature that passes a law that is later struck down. That would put an end this kind of bullshit waste.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Let penalize the voters for electing corrupt legislators... I mean, if we want to take it to its logical limit. But we have to admit, the voters are responsible, especially when these people are reelected.

    • by Yunzil ( 181064 )

      How were these clearly bogus laws voted in, in the first place?

      The clue is in the first word of the headline.

    • Re:How?! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:45AM (#50255817)

      My guess is that the argument went something like this:

      The public doesn't understand livestock farming beyond what is shown in Little Golden Books read to preschoolers, ie farmer Brown with a handful of free-range, pet-like animals who can recite their ABCs. Animal rights activists will use carefully edited imagery showing normal agricultural practices structured in a way that will shock the public and cause harm to farmers generally and possibly individual farmers specifically.

      I think there's no question the law is bad and seems designed to shield the worst big-ag factory farming practices. But it probably got buy-in from farmers, people who have been on working farms and likely even hunters because they have some understanding of the difference between livestock raised and killed for food and pets.

      There's probably also a general animosity in a rural state to the entire line of reasoning promoted by PETA and other similar groups who are seen as promoting radical ideas.

      I can't defend the law, but I can sort of understand the mindset that went into it. Animal rights groups kind of do to animal agriculture what the anti-abortion people recently did to Planned Parenthood -- carefully edited videos designed to show their opponent in the worst possible light to people who have no idea what normal day-to-day activity is in a place they don't have any experience with.

      I'd wager a side of free-range, organic beef that if Planned Parenthood could get a law passed against hidden camera exposes in their clinics they would do it because they know that their opponents aren't using such footage to provide a balanced, fair and informative documentary, they're doing it to create shocking propaganda to promote their political position.

      • Planned Parenthood could get a law passed against hidden camera exposes in their clinics

        they already have laws like this for patient confidentiality

        maybe you'd like to broadcast a video of your prostate exam

    • Let me first be clear that I absolutely agree such laws are terrible and should be struck down. However...

      How were these clearly bogus laws voted in, in the first place? It seems pretty obvious that documenting health/safety violations would be protected from legal retaliation, much like how truth is an absolute defense against libel charges.

      You actually answered your own question at the end there, because what you said is NOT strictly the case. Contrary to popular belief, truth is NOT always an absolute defense against libel charges. The legal standard is generally actual malice [wikipedia.org], which means that the standard includes "reckless disregard" of whether something is true or false, not just actual truth or falsehood.

      What this also means is

  • Good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:09AM (#50255533)
    As a member of the animal agriculture community for over 15 years, I've never understood the point of these laws. They are essentially an admission that there is a problem, and that we'd rather try to gag our opponents than address it.

    I spend a lot of time on /. and other forums defending animal agriculture because, while I would be the first to admit we can do better, I think we do a much better job caring for our animals than most people believe. Animal rights groups do not concern themselves over much with things like facts, accuracy, or fair descriptions of why we do things the way that we do, but that does not mean that we should try to silence them. Instead we should be engaging with those willing to dig a little deeper than a 30sec sound byte, or a 5 paragraph news article by a writer with no direct connection to agriculture. We should explain, WHY we believe that gestation stalls are better than group housing for stalls, WHY castration of males is better for the animals and the humans who work with them, HOW we've developed programs like PQA Plus, TQA Plus, etc. These questions and misconceptions won't go away on their own, and gag laws do nothing to help our case.
    • Re:Good! (Score:5, Funny)

      by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @11:48AM (#50256295) Journal

      "WHY castration of males is better for the animals and the humans who work with them"

      Damn... I didn't realize work in that industry was so hard. You guys have my sympathy.

      • Ha! Poor word choice on my part. We castrate the male livestock, not the male animal handlers. Although there was a sow barn attendant who was standing too close to the front of a farrowing crate while changing a light bulb (or something like that) who was bit in the testicals by a sow. Said they could hear his scream clear on the other side of the barn, over all the sows in the gestation wing. Funniest damn story I was ever told about working with sows. He's fine now (he claims).
    • by bidule ( 173941 )

      I think it comes down to this: don't anthropomorphize animals, they don't like it.

      I saw a video of a trainer "harassing" a horse. Once he was done, the horse had found its place and its purpose. What looked like bullying was in fact healing.

  • by danaris ( 525051 ) <danaris@[ ].com ['mac' in gap]> on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:09AM (#50255537) Homepage

    Just goes to show that as much as big companies and wealthy individuals would like to change that—and have been trying very hard over the past few decades to do so—profit is still not, in fact, more important than free speech. Or the Constitution, or people's lives.

    Let's just hope we do see more cases like this. Laws like that are a terrible perversion of the American legislative system.

    Dan Aris

  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:40AM (#50255763)

    I woke up today to hear on the news how Germany has effectively outlawed Keynesian economics in those countries that were suckered into the Euro currency union (the Right in the UK were absolutely right to avoid joining the monetary union. It's a shame they get so much else wrong).

    On the elevator I saw a news blurb on how Hedge funds are demanding that Puerto Rico close their schools [cnn.com] to pay back debts (rather than take a haircut on their risky investments that earned them well over market interest rates for years. Hint: you get that interest rate because your return is risky, not guaranteed).

    And of course there's the endless snowden leaks that make Security Systems look benign, and the ridiculously skewed anti-abortion propaganda that may bring down one of the most important institutions for women's health, and so on and so on.

    It really does feel like the world of Channel 23, and wondering how soon they will ban the off switch (rhetorical shots across the bow are already being made, with talk of ad blockers "violating copyright". How soon until turning off your TV is the same?)

    Finally, after years of giving corporations and the rich unfettered leeway to buy elections, exploit the poor and middle class (and now, more and more, the upper-middle class), we get a judicial ruling in favor of people over corporations. Of course, our downward death spiral will no doubt resume shortly, but in the meantime it is a breath of fresh air to see sanity in our courts for once.

  • At least one member of a group called Mercy for Animals got a job at the Bettencourt dairy. They filmed for several weeks with hidden cameras and didn't find any abuse, which is what you would expect. Happy cows are productive cows, and productive cows are profitable. Anyone who has spent any time on a dairy farm knows this. So the undercover coached the workers to abuse the cattle without the owners knowing. This was a setup from the beginning to the end. The owners of the dairy were as upset by the v
  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @02:45PM (#50257821)
    Whistle blowers deserve every advantage in making things public. There is no sane reason to protect any business from wrong doing. The very people that pretend to be patriots and church goers are the very ones wanting to suppress free speech and hide wrong doing. It is disgusting that a state could ever pass such un American laws.

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