Meat of the Matter: Ag Gag’s Gone — For Good?


By Dan Murphy, Opinion, FarmJournal's PorkNetwork

July 12, 2017


In a ruling last week, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby agreed with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA that Utah’s “ag-gag” law violated the plaintiffs’ free speech rights.


The opening paragraph of the judge’s decision in Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al, v. Gary R. Herbert and Sean D. Reyes (Utah’s governor and attorney general, respectively) spells it out:


“Utah’s so-called ‘ag-gag’ laws target undercover investigations at agricultural operations … by criminalizing both lying to get into an agricultural operation and filming once inside. Plaintiffs contend the law violates their First Amendment rights. The court agrees.”


The law, which was originally enacted by the Utah legislature in 2012, prohibited making photos or videotaping inside agricultural operations. The intent, as was expressed in testimony at the time, according to multiple news sources, was to shut down the practice of animal activists who got themselves hired at feedyards or packing plants, only to spend their time capturing covert video clips that industry officials often accused the perpetrators of later doctoring to exaggerate so-called abuses.


As FOX News13 in Salt Lake City reported on its website, one of the plaintiffs in the case was a woman named Amy Meyers, an animal rights leader, who was arrested in 2013 for standing on the sidewalk outside a beef plant filming a cow being moved into the plant. Ultimately, the charges against her were dismissed in court.


That case is what triggered the lawsuit. As Fox News reported, the animal rights groups argued in court that the state’s ag-gag law was passed to target them specifically. In their legal brief, they claimed that Utah Republican Sen. David Hinkins “elaborated that in his view the law was necessary because the vegetarian groups are ‘terrorists.’”


It’s tempting to ask these animal activists, “So what’s your point?”


Good Decision on a Bad Law


Lying your way into a business operation, then capturing video clips for public distribution cannot be condoned under the First Amendment. And there is absolutely no doubt that the activists who utilize these tactics have motives well beyond some noble desire to enlighten the public.


But here’s the problem. First of all, Ms. Meyers had a plausible defense. Because she was arrested while on a public sidewalk, her defense on the basis of her First Amendment rights was solid.


That overreach on the part of Utah law enforcement undoubtedly influenced the court’s decision...