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Lawsuits Charge 'Ag-Gag' Laws Violate Free Speech

Mercy for Animals
The group Mercy for Animals released video in 2012 of workers at Bettencourt Dairy in Idaho abusing cows. The incident led Idaho lawmakers to outlaw surreptitious video at farms.

A lawsuit led by the ACLU is challenging Idaho's brand new, so-called “ag-gag” law aimed at stopping undercover animal rights activists from making videos of abuse at farms and slaughter houses.

And Idaho's law isn't the first to be challenged on free speech grounds.

Last year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against a Utah law very similar to Idaho’s. Both laws criminalize shooting video without the farm owner's permission.

The suit was the first challenge to a so-called “ag-gag” measure. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, seven states now have these laws.

The Utah challenge drew support from food safety groups as well as a number of news media.

“We do want to see what's going on in these facilities and we'd much rather see direct video rather than having to hear the claims of activists of what they claimed to have seen," says Gregg Leslie, legal director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"You know it's always better to have that direct information.”

A number of news organizations, including NPR, signed on to a brief supporting the challenge to the Utah law.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is considering filing a similar brief in the Idaho case.