Animal snuff films are protected by the First Amendment.
Yes. Recording and exhibiting the torture and murder of animals is a constitutionally protected activity in the United States.
This ruling comes courtesy of one Simeon Timothy “Sim” Lake, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Houston. Remember Enron? Well, Judge Lake is the guy who gave executive Jeffrey Skilling the minimum possible sentence and vacated Ken Lay’s convictions, allowing his family to keep his ill-gotten gains.
Thank heavens Lake’s is not the final say, since an appellate court and the Supreme Court could both overrule him.
Lake’s chance to commit this abomination on American law came when a couple, Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice, filmed Richards torturing puppies, kittens, rabbits and others to death. They were charged with criminal violations of a law that was passed by Congress in one of its rare lucid moments. The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 prohibits photographing or videotaping acts “in which 1 or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious body injury.”
That law was based on Congress’s finding that ”serious criminal acts of extreme animal cruelty are integral to the creation, sale, distribution, advertising, marketing, and exchange of animal crush videos.”
The couple was facing criminal charges based on several incidents, including one where Richards stomped a cat, then ground the heel of her shoe into the animal’s eye socket.
Judge Lake, a Reagan appointee, didn’t see the difference between doing and videotaping that and the “humane slaughter of a stolen cow,” so he decided the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act was too broad and prohibited things that should have been protected as free speech. For some reason the explicit exception in the Act for “the slaughter of animals for food” wasn’t enough for Lake.
At least he recognized that the actions in the video were “disturbing and horrid.”
The Richards/Justice case was the first one brought under the 2010 Crush Video law. The pair still faces criminal charges for the animal abuse itself. The question Judge Lake’s ruling raises is whether they can face additional charges for taping what they did.
The First Amendment acknowledges that certain forms of expression are not worthy of constitutional protection. “Fighting words,” for example, “are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.” Crush videos certainly aren’t essential to develop any ideas or get at any truth, and any benefit they may have is to help sadistic perverts get off. That benefit is outweighed by pretty much any positive consideration at all, and certainly by preventing the torture and painful death of innocent animals.
Judge Lake acknowledged in his opinion that child pornography should not be protected by the First Amendment because, among other reasons, banning it would reduce the supply, which could dry up the market for these products. Whether or not the economic argument makes sense, the motivation behind this rule should apply in this case: to reduce and eventually end harm to children forced to participate in the production of pornography. Surely preventing the torture of animals is a compelling reason to ban crush videos.
On the other hand, our government condones any number of ways to torture animals, from factory farming to zoos to research laboratories. With such low regard for animals’ basic well-being, it isn’t all that surprising that even a consideration as objectionable as the sexual urges of sickos outweighs it.
Photo credit: Fuse