September 01, 2017

 

 Court strikes down agriculture filming law

Posted Aug. 16, 2017

A federal judge ruled in July that a Utah law designed to prevent secret filming on farms is an unconstitutional restriction of speech rights.

Amy Meyer was arrested in February 2013 after she captured video of what appeared to be a bulldozer moving a sick cow at a slaughterhouse in Draper City, Utah. Court documents indicate that, while multiple states have established criminal penalties for capturing video at an agriculture facility without consent, Meyer may be the only person to face criminal charges under one of those laws.

The court ruling also notes that Utah's law would not have applied to Meyer even if it were constitutional. Utah's law forbids lying to gain access to agriculture facilities and capture video inside, whereas Meyer captured video from a public right of way.

The criminal case against Meyer was dismissed in April 2013. But she, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals subsequently filed a civil rights suit against the state, alleging that the law still had chilling effects on speech protected by the Constitution.

In his ruling for the U.S. District Court for Utah, Judge Robert J. Shelby wrote that the state's defense—that the law is necessary to protect farm workers and animals from disease and injury—contradicted the law's history. He noted that legislators advocated for the law to keep vegetarian advocates from harming animal industries. He also wrote that the state failed to show that animal and employee safety are endangered by the people targeted by the law, or that the law would remedy such dangers.

"Utah undoubtedly has an interest in addressing perceived threats to the state agricultural industry, and as history shows, it has a variety of constitutionally permissible tools at its disposal to do so," the ruling states. "Suppressing broad swaths of protected speech without justification, however, is not one of them."

The ruling notes that other states including Iowa, Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota have enacted such laws since the 1990s in response to animal rights advocates' investigations exposing animal abuse. Utah's law was enacted in March 2012.