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Supreme Court: Free Speech Trumps Animal Cruelty Videos

Supreme Court: Free Speech Trumps Animal Cruelty Videos

The First Amendment protects our right to free speech. While the First Amendment is written concisely in words that don’t seem to allow for interpretation, the meaning of freedom of speech and freedom of the press have been debated since it was added to the Constitution.

It places a limit on what the government can, or can’t, do to regulate or constrain our opportunities to engage in expression of one kind or another that allows for robust debate and  promotes the free market of ideas, while keeping an informed citizenry where we are all stakeholders.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning through time with cases that reflect changing trends in values, society, technology and the media since the adoption of the Bill of Rights and advent of the printing press through the twentieth century.

This week they’re at it again. With a vote of 8-1 the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that bans videos depicting cruelty to animals in the case of U.S. v. Stevens with the position that it violates the right to free speech.

The vote overturned the conviction of Robert Stevens, who was found guilty of selling videotapes of dogfights in 2005 under the guise that “he is an educator, and his subject is the history and status of pit bulls,” despite reports of his involvement in the dog fighting world.

The 1999 law in question, which covers the creation, sale and possession of depictions of animal cruelty was targeted at the sales of “crush videos,” which show women crushing small animals to death with their bare feet or high heels and is also considered to fall in the realm of sexual fetishes. Excluded is anything that contains “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.”

While what has value may be considered a slippery slope, most of us would agree that materials containing anything showing cruelty to animals simply have no inherent value, and fall on the scale of obscenity or child pornography, which are afforded no constitutional protection.

Some justices went immediately to the opinion that this was a plain violation of the First Amendment, while others had problems with the breadth of the law.

What seems to have gotten lost in the decision is the importance of animal protection. Stevens was clearly profiting from the commercial sale and promotion of the torture and cruel death of innocent animals. 

Justice Samuel Alito seems to be the only one to have noticed. He dissented, saying the ruling effectively legalized the sale of crush videos and “is thus likely to spur a resumption of their production.” He added that animals in crush videos “are living creatures that experience excruciating pain.”

As Jessica Pieklo points out in her Civil Rights blog post, “Since animal cruelty is already a crime, the proper analysis according to Justice Alito should have been for the Court to send the case back down to the Third Circuit to decide whether or not the tape in question depicted illegal acts.  If it did the free speech questions would be irrelevant since possessing tapes depicting a crime is illegal.  The majority, Justice Alito argued, was making an absurd distinction between outlawing acts of animal cruelty (which are already on the books) and possessing evidence of those acts all in the name of free expression.” 

In pioneering the need for free speech, it was understood that at the heart of democracy is the right for justice and human decency. Free enterprise did not include breaking the law. Our Constitution stands to protect the rights of life, which includes acts of compassion and acts that prohibit cruelty.

While the courts splice details and spin interpretations, losing the essence of why there are laws of protection, we need to remind our policy makers and ourselves that the suffering these animals experience is cruel regardless of how they word it.

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225 comments

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7:34PM PDT on May 3, 2013

91 % of the poll think that the supreme court made a wrong decision. it is not a free speech nothing but abuse and cruelty. Supreme court support cruelty and abuse???

1:07PM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

And April was Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. Way to celebrate it, Supreme Court.

7:56AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

Ridiculous!

10:41AM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

Oh, believe me.... I will continue to "remind" any and everyone that they need to open their eyes to the abuse that occurs and abusers need to be severely punished. Why on earth would they ban videos showing proof of animal cruelty and neglect? Do they think if they don't see it or acknowledge it, that it doesn't happen??? Please! Get your act together and stop this insane, inhumane treatment! Thankfully, there are many others like me who continue to speak out on issues such as this.

6:35AM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

god, america. all these rights and freedoms...

12:08AM PST on Nov 22, 2010

I hope he is still alive. I hadn't been on this page in avery long time. You should have taken him right away to a vet (in most cities there are low-priced clinics). You can't get medicine from a petiton site; even a vet wouldn't know what to prescribe w/o seeing the animal and running a test or two. This should just be a matter of common sense, for God's sake, esp. if you care for an animal. If not, do write, but see if someone can pay for the visit to a vet. I bet a lot would help, paying the vet directly.

12:03AM PST on Nov 22, 2010

Every day when I get up and when I got to sleep I pray that the good Lord call to himself asap all the supreme court members appointeed by republican presidents. I hereby proimise to send a suitable bouquet to each of their funerals.

5:15AM PDT on Aug 14, 2010

my tree months old male german sheffered has some problem with its belly.it belly becom very big.is it a bloat or somthing else.kindly suggest some medicine for it.

8:23AM PDT on Apr 29, 2010

Thanks for posting this, Alicia!
I already signed the petition before.

Apart from the fact, that again human rights are regarded as superior, whereas animals don't seem to have rights at all, they forgot, what laws have been issued for. Laws have been enacted to make a life in harmony easier and to distinguish between deeds to harm a living being and those, which didn't intend to do harm to anyone. To spread any material which violates a law, meaning showing a premediated murder ('cause this is, what these video show as far as I'm concerned), should be treated the same like doing it. At least it should also be regarded a crime. This case of "freedom of speech" does not only legalize a crime, it's a violation of animals' rights and an assault to all people trying to defend the rights of animals. If this is not punished, what are their arguments for punishing somebody who sells videos showing brutality against children?
I'm awfully sorry, I can't see a difference here.
Somebody writing his parole on a subway-seat is getting punished for damage to property. Ain't that freedom of speech too? Reading this article, it seems they can't incorporate two rules or rights at a time.
This is just inacceptable and shocking! Shame on these bastards!

4:41AM PDT on Apr 29, 2010

Any legal system that allows cruelty to any sentient being clearly needs to be overthrown.

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