Federal Judge Rules Idaho’s Ag-Gag law ‘unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment’

"This latest ruling affirms our right to report abuse in order to protect animals and our health.”

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After lawmakers in Idaho passed a law in 2014 making it a crime to “surreptitiously videotape agriculture operations,” a federal judge overturned the state’s Ag-Gag law ruling it unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the law was an “unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution safeguarding free speech” on Jan. 4, according to Boise State Public Radio.

“The hazard of this subsection is that it criminalizes innocent behavior, that the overbreadth of this subsection’s coverage is staggering, and that the purpose of the statute was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists,” U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in a 56-page ruling.

This decision makes Idaho the first state where a court rules an Ag-Gag statute unconstitutional.

After undercover footage from factory farms revealed the cruelty involved in the meat, dairy and egg industries in 2012 by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights organization, Idaho felt a deep threat to its $2.5 billion dairy industry and immediately passed the Ag-Gag law.

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“People deserve to know where their food comes from and how it is produced, and undercover reporters should be met with praise and gratitude rather than criminal charges,” One Green Planet stated on their website.

Animal rights activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued Idaho as soon as it became law stating it “criminalized a long tradition of undercover journalism,” according to Boise State Public Radio.

The appeals court also stated they are “sensitive to journalists’ constitutional right to investigate and publish exposes on the agricultural industry” and that “matters related to food safety and animal cruelty are of significant public importance.”

“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,” Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in his ruling.

With Ag-Gag laws in place in seven other states, the Idaho overturn is just the first of its kind.

“This latest ruling affirms our right to report abuse in order to protect animals and our health,” Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety, said.

 

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