A federal court recently struck down Iowa’s “Ag-Gag” law, which criminalized undercover investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. The law was a transparent effort to suppress free speech about the often horrific conditions that animals endure in industrial animal agriculture.
The Iowa Legislature is now considering legislation that would attempt to circumvent the federal court decision. Introduced last week and is racing through Iowa Senate and House committees to meet last Friday’s deadline for committee approval, House File 649 and Senate Study Bill 1227 would criminalize undercover investigations by journalists and advocates. This is a misguided move that would again violate the Constitution and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
According to a statement by Animal Legal Defense Fund, the new bill would make it a crime for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility through deception if the person intends to cause “injury” to the “business interest” of the facility. Of course, when undercover investigators expose horrific abuse, like when an investigation at a Iowa Hormel supplier revealed workers beating young pigs and sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes, the natural effect of such investigations is to injure the reputation of the investigated facility – and rightfully so. Undercover investigations have a long and treasured history in this country, one that is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and free press.
Courts have previously struck down similar laws in Utah and Idaho, and litigation is pending against Ag-Gag laws in North Carolina and Kansas. In each of these victories, the courts have recognized that even deception is protected by the First Amendment, yet we give the government the power to determine the truth and throw whoever disagrees in prison.
Attempts to defend these unconstitutional laws have not only been unsuccessful, they have been expensive. If Iowa passes a new Ag-Gag law, another round of expensive litigation is guaranteed and the plaintiffs are likely to win, given the weight of precedent already on the side of openness and transparency in an industry that is desperate to keep the consuming public in the dark, alongside the animals it mistreats. Iowa’s tax payers will once again have to foot the bill for their elected officials’ efforts to strip them of their constitutional rights.
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