Press Release

Fourth Circuit Enjoins North Carolina Ag-Gag Law

Decision affirms constitutionality of undercover investigations and whistleblowing

Raleigh, NC – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit handed an important win to plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s Ag-Gag law, ruling that undercover investigations and whistleblowing are considered newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment.

A coalition of public interest groups filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s “Anti-Sunshine” law – a statute that restricts these groups from conducting and publicizing undercover investigations by allowing employers and property owners to sue undercover investigators seeking to expose unethical or illegal activities in the workplace. Although similar to “Ag-Gag” laws challenged around the country, the state’s law extends beyond animal agriculture facilities and penalizes undercover investigations in settings like daycare centers and nursing homes.

Under North Carolina’s law, organizations and journalists are susceptible to lawsuits and substantial damages if they publicize evidence gathered from investigative activities such as speaking with employees, recording documents in nonpublic areas, documenting animal abuse, and performing surveillance at unsafe and unethical workplaces. Additionally, the law’s text and legislative history shows that the statute’s primary objective is to stop undercover investigations by what the legislature termed “private special-interest organizations,” specifically those focused on animal agriculture and food health and safety.

Today, the Fourth Circuit rejected the state’s numerous claims that undercover investigations fall outside of First Amendment protections, holding that each of the challenged provisions are not just subject to the First Amendment, but are viewpoint discriminatory, as they were originally passed to suppress speech critical of businesses and employer conduct.

“Consumers have a right to know how food is produced — and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Amanda Howell. “The gusto in which industrial animal agriculture continues to fight to keep witnesses out of factory farms and slaughterhouses paints a disturbing image of America’s food system — and creates increased urgency for transparency.”

The plaintiffs group consists of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Farm Forward, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Stop Ag-Gag Laws

Undercover investigations and whistleblowers have exposed some of the worst aspects of factory farming, but Ag-Gag laws punish people who speak out about cruelty in animal agriculture. Voice your opposition.

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