Advocates Stand Up for Animals in Landmark “Ag Gag” LawsuitPosted on December 10, 2013
Animal Groups Respond to State Attempt to Silence Factory Farm Whistle-Blowers
For immediate release:
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
David Perle, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
SALT LAKE CITY — Today, national nonprofits Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a response to the state of Utah’s motion to dismiss the landmark “ag gag” lawsuit filed earlier this summer in the U.S. District Court of Utah. The first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenges Utah’s law, which violates rights protected by the U.S. Constitution by gagging free speech in criminalizing the collection of evidence of animal abuse at factory farms. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of ALDF, PETA, the political journal CounterPunch, journalists Will Potter and Jesse Fruhwirth, undercover investigator Daniel Hauff, Professor James McWilliams, and Amy Meyer—a Utah animal advocate and the first person in the nation prosecuted under an ag gag law. The Center for Food Safety and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will file “friend of the court” briefs in support of the groups’ historic lawsuit.
In October, Utah filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming the plaintiffs lack legal standing and failed to adequately allege a violation of the Constitution. In the opposition filed today, the plaintiffs defend their right to bring the case, pointing out the very real threat of prosecution that chills their ability to expose the horrors of factory farming, as well as the injuries suffered by journalists and academics who report on these exposés. The opposition also explains why the vitriolic rhetoric used by Utah legislators against animal advocates in passing the ag gag law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and why federal laws designed to promote whistle-blowing should preempt state attempts to silence whistle-blowers.
Since the August 2013 filing of the lawsuit, ALDF’s petition to repeal Utah’s ag gag law has received more than 35,000 signatures on Causes.com and the lawsuit has received widespread support from constitutional law experts and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
“This is a blatant assault upon the rights of citizens to free speech and public information,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “But it is also a way of intimidating people from coming forward about egregious animal cruelty. For the sake of animals, public safety, and our constitutional rights, this law must be struck down.”
“The ag-gag law is a travesty in a free society, designed to cover up systematic animal abuse, said Jeffrey Kerr, General Counsel to PETA. “The Utah legislature should require cameras in slaughterhouses and on factory farms to show piglets being castrated without anesthetic, chickens having their throats cut while still fully conscious, and still-feeling cows having their legs cut off all so they can end up on dinner plates.”
Attorneys from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and the Utah Legal Clinic and other First Amendment experts, including Colorado attorney Ed Ramey, are providing pro bono legal assistance on the case.
Copies of the complaint are available by request.
ALDF was founded in 1979 with the unique mission of protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
PETA was founded in 1980 and focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in the clothing trade, in laboratories, and in the entertainment industry. For more information, please visit PETA.org.