It doesn’t seem fair that businesses can record us, even when we are walking on public sidewalks — just look up in any major city and you’ll see the security cameras — but we can’t record them. Why do corporate citizens get more protection, and get to be more invasive, than actual human beings?
Well, they don’t, if the Constitution has its way. The new lawsuit describes how ag-gag laws like Utah’s violate three different parts of the U.S. Constitution.
1. The Free Speech Clause, First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Ag-gag criminalizes speech based on its content by prohibiting criticism of factory farming. It stops the press from conducting exposes about where our food comes from. Yet it permits factory farm owners to record and publish any kind of self-flattering material they want. Methinks that it is industrial agriculture that has the “national propaganda groups.”
2. The Supremacy Clause, Article VI.
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme Law of the Land…any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
The federal government is in charge. When it doesn’t have laws about something — like robbing people, for example — states are welcome to make their own laws. But when Congress or the Constitution does have a rule about something, the states can’t override it.
Yet that is what Utah is trying to do. By preventing the discovery and recording of violations of federal animal cruelty, worker safety, environmental and food safety laws, the state’s ag-gag statute makes them impossible to enforce. The state has gutted a whole passel of federal laws in one blow. The founding fathers made that a no-no.
3. Equal Protection Clause, Fourteenth Amendment.
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit against Utah’s version of ag-gag notes that “the law is motivated by animus towards a politically unpopular group — animal protection advocates.” It is pretty hard to deny. The tycoons who make their money off the suffering of animals, exploitation of low-wage (and mostly undocumented immigrant) workers, destruction of the environment and endangerment of consumers’ health most assuredly hate animal advocates who work to expose them, and Utah’s ag-gag law most assuredly came straight from those tycoons. Animal advocates, as well as immigrant advocates, environmentalists and food safety advocates are entitled to as much protection from Utah’s legislature as the factory farmers get.
Many state governments that have or want ag-gag laws will watch this lawsuit closely. It is now up to the courts to remind states that corporations cannot buy themselves a free pass to break any laws they want and toss their critics into prison.
Photo credit: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock
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