Human and animal interests can sometimes converge. Such is the case in the United States about the so-called "gag laws" or "Ag-gag Laws". These last ones make it possible to prosecute any person who enters clandestinely on a farm in order to denounce the practices and / or taking snapshots or recording videos inside the concerned sites.

The first ever gag laws were introduced nearly 30 years ago by some states (Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, 1990) whose breeding is a powerful player in their economy. Today, a total of eight states have adopted this repressive tool for agro-business animals and protectors: Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, Idaho, Iowa and Utah.

The gag laws constitute a serious infringement on the freedom of expression accorded to US citizens under the 1st amendment of the Constitution which states that "Congress shall not make any law affecting the establishment or prohibiting the free exercise of a religion, nor restricting the freedom of speech or the press, or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for compensation for the wrongs it has to complain".

The purpose of these laws is, in particular, to make illegal images and videos subject to fines and even imprisonment. This is to ensure that images showing acts of animal abuse can not be released later and thus harm the economy. They are not the result of chance. The gag laws constitute a deliberate will of the very powerful lobby of the agri-business to remove the practices of breeding in the eyes of the citizens and consumers who do not have to know in what way the animals which they consume are raised and slaughtered.

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Given the considerable impact of such laws both on the welfare of animals and on the freedom of expression of US citizens, a number of NGOs and animal rights lawyers, including ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund) have introduced procedures to have these laws declared contrary to the US Constitution.

In the states of Idaho and Utah these laws have, in the recent past, already been found to be contrary to the American Constitution as a result of "civil rights" complaints.

The first time that a gag law has been found to violate the federal constitution is the one in Idaho. By decision (ALDF / Otter case) dated August 3, 2015, the US District Court declared the law unconstitutional. On appeal, the Federal Court of Appeal (in this case that of the 9th Circuit) confirmed in January 2018 the decision rendered at first instance.

As for Utah, it was also found unconstitutional on 7 July 2017 (ALDF / Herbert case). As the state of Utah did not appeal, the decision became final.

There remained two other proceedings, those initiated in North Carolina and Iowa. That in North Carolina is still pending, that in Iowa has just been the subject of January 9, 2019 of a decision confirming the unconstitutionality of the gag law.

According to the court, the law of the state of Iowa contravenes the 1st amendment of the US Constitution on freedom of expression.

The decision is a huge success (the third in this case against a gag law) for the Coalition formed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Bailing Out Benji, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and the Center for Food Safety.

The victory won by the animalist coalition before the "Federal Court for the Southern District of Iowa" is all the more remarkable because it concerns a state that is the largest producer in the United States of hogs and laying hens: 20 million pigs and 45 million laying hens are raised every year!

In the present case, this is not only a victory for animals, as practices deemed abusive can continue to be legally documented and reported to the authorities and communicated to the public, but also a victory for citizens whose freedom to expression guaranteed by the First Amendment is thus preserved.

However, there is still a need to monitor the eventual evolution of the procedure, with the state of Iowa having the opportunity to appeal the decision. To follow then. For the moment, all the gag laws that have been attacked have been found to be unconstitutional.

There are two other procedures underway, the one in North Carolina and the one introduced very recently (December 4, 2018) against the oldest gag law (1990), that of Kansas called "Animal Farm and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act "(Chapter 47" Livestock and Domestic Animals " Article 47-1827).

In conclusion, we can only welcome the results obtained by the coalition of NGOs against the gag laws in the context of the various proceedings initiated because they are contrary to the animal welfare and the freedom of expression of the citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.

It is important to emphasize the remarkable work and independence of federal judges in upholding this fundamental right, which indirectly benefits animals as well. Human interests and animal interests can all converge and be jointly defended.

See:

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