Judge Shelby strikes down “Ag-Gag” laws to protect first amendment rights.

By Jane Lyon

On Friday, July 7th, Federal Judge Robert Shelby deemed Utah’s agricultural industry protection law known as an “ag-gag” law to be a violation of free speech in his 31 page ruling. This is a huge success for the freedom of speech and animal rights activists in Utah.

“Ag-gag” laws are bills in various states that make it difficult or impossible for investigators to expose animal cruelty and safety issues. In order to protect the strong cattle industry here in Utah, the law passed in March 2012 was put in place to prevent cattle ranchers from being held accountable for cruel practices towards animals and/or people if caught on camera. Essentially if you were to go onto agricultural lands and film animals being abused to reveal cruel practices, you would be arrested for trespassing and for putting the stability of Utah’s agricultural industry at risk.

Can’t believe it? Well this is exactly what happened to Amy Meyer, a then volunteer for Ching Farm Rescue and Sanctuary. “I used to drive by the Dale Smith Meatpacking facility in Draper on my way to volunteer in 2013. I decided to see what it looked like from the other side… Hoping for a good location to protest. Within minutes I saw a front-end loader carrying a sick cow as if she was nothing more than rubble. I had no idea I would see such blatant animal cruelty standing on the public road. For mere minutes, I tried to capture what I could with my camera.” Meyer was arrested for her act of free speech. No one at the meatpacking facility was arrested, the company itself was not questioned. Meyer would be the first in the country to be charged under these ag-gag laws that are still in place in six other states including Montana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and North Dakota.

In the summer of 2013, attorneys with PETA, ALDF and the local Pioneer Justice Center filed a lawsuit calling the agricultural operational interference law (ag-gag) unconstitutional. “I think they argued very convincingly that Utah’s ag-gag law is fundamentally undemocratic and serves only to protect those who are abusing animals or violating the law.” Meyer, who has been an animal activist since 2006, shared, “as Judge Shelby himself pointed out, these laws were specifically targeted at undercover investigators and whistleblowers that have released shocking photographs and videos of animals being shocked with electric prods, kicked and beaten.” Judge Shelby’s ruling is a hopeful reminder that Americans do not let anything stand in the way of our first amendment rights.

“In an era when state legislators are being bought and sold by the agricultural industry to do their bidding, it is more important than ever to speak out for animals and expose what is rotten in this industry,” says Meyer. In my conversation with Meyer, she reminded me that whistleblowers and investigators have led to some of the strongest developments in human and animal rights movements. For example, in 1981 Alex Pacecho, a founder of PETA, would work undercover at the Institute for Behavioral Research where 17 monkeys were living hellish lifestyles in tiny rusted metal cages. This ground-breaking undercover investigation would catapult PETA into a landmark victory- a Supreme Court ruling that gave birth to the Animal Welfare Act. Since those days animal activists have been breaking down barriers that keep animals in unsafe situations. Someday we may even see an end to animal cruelty in our state.

As the world of activists and protests grow in the wake of our current administration, we can be intersectional activists. Feminists can fight for animals rights. Environmentalists can push for immigration rights. Labor rights activists can support the LGBT rights movement. We all can and should support each other as activist against unethical cruelty in every sense of the matter. The coming together of our causes and the supporting of each other is the strongest way press forward with impact.

If you would like to learn more about your rights as an animal activists, join the UARC this Thursday evening, July 13th at 6:30pm at the Marmalade Library (280 W 500 N) to talk about how we can become better advocates on behalf of the animals in our state. Here is the link to the event. 

If you are ready to learn more about the harmful treatment of animals, and how to get involved with animal activism (and- not to mention the vegans) check out PETA’s guide to becoming an activist.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2017.