Lawsuit claims Kansas “Ag-Gag” law violates free speech
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas law banning secret filming at slaughterhouses and other livestock facilities unconstitutionally criminalizes free speech on matters of considerable public concern, a coalition of animal rights and consumer protection groups argued in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
At issue in the lawsuit is the state’s “Ag-Gag” law, which was enacted in 1990. The law makes it a crime for anyone to take a picture or video at animal facilities without the owner’s consent or to enter them under false pretenses.
“The Kansas Ag-Gag law has silenced whistleblowers seeking to protect animals from cruelty for far too long,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a news release. “This unconstitutional law exists solely to protect the financial interests of industries that abuse animals, and it will not hold up in court.”
The litigation, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas, was brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc., and Hope Sanctuary.
The Kansas attorney general’s office said in an email that it has not yet been served with the lawsuit, but it intends to defend against the suit as it does with every other challenge to a duly enacted Kansas statute.
Undercover operations, which expose unsafe and inhumane conditions, are a crucial form of free speech, the lawsuit argues. It contends such investigations have revealed information about animal cruelty, unsafe food handling practices, environmental hazards and inhumane working conditions.
“Americans want and deserve more transparency into how their food is produced, not less,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. “Videos and photos of feedlot operations with unsafe and unsanitary conditions, like those unconstitutionally banned by Kansas’s law, are vital to protecting food safety.”
Similar laws in Utah and Idaho were struck down within the past two years as unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment, and litigation is pending in several other states.