Will Dog Fighting Videos be Protected by Freedom of Speech?

One of the most important cases concerning animal rights was presented, October 6, 2009 to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Solicitor General Elena Kagan presented a case that will have the justices decide if videos and other depictions of animal torture and cruelty are protected by the First Amendment – right to free speech.

The case is the U.S. v. Stevens.  Robert Stevens was convicted of selling videotapes of dog fights that he produced in 2005. He later appealed to a higher court that ruled in his favor. That court also overturned a federal law that had made it illegal to sell or possess depictions of animal cruelty for profit.

The 1999 law was passed by Congress to outlaw the production of videos called “crush videos” which were popular on the Internet.These were sexual-fetish tapes showing kittens and other small animals being crushed to death by women wearing high heels.

If the Supreme Court rules to uphold the conviction of Stevens, the law will be reinstated and animals will once again be protected from people who make money from their suffering.

It seems like it should be an easy decision for the Supreme Court, but since the concept of free speech has come into question everyone from book publishers to movie producers, photographers, artists and journalists have gotten involved.

They have taken animal cruelty out of the equation and replaced it with their own interests that they believe will be damaged if Stevens loses. Even the ACLU has gotten involved.

The New York Times went as far as filing a “brief” in support of Stevens. They said, “The 1999 law imperils the media’s ability to report on issues related to animals.”

Media publications cite that they are concerned that hunting and fishing magazines will be censored and general reporting on animal issues will be limited.

Here are the facts that have led to this big debate.

  • Robert Stevens, a self-proclaimed dog trainer, author and documentary maker was arrested in 2004 by Pennsylvania law enforcement agents after they bought three of his videos through the mail.
  • According to the Humane Society of the United States one of the videos called, “Pick A Winna” shows dog fights with Stevens voice in the background “egging the subjects to tear each other limb from limb.”   Another tape called “Japan Pit Fights” shows pit bulls fighting with each other in long drawn out fights that last more than an hour.  HSUS claims that Stevens shipped three dogs to Japan for these fights where it is legal.  And the third video called “Catch Dogs and Country Living” shows pit bulls being trained to attack hogs and then hunting wild boar.  A gruesome scene depicts the dogs ripping out the neck of a pig while they are being trained.
  • Stevens is tried and found guilty in 2005.  He is sentenced to 37 months in prison, followed by three years of supervision.
  • Stevens appeals to the U.S. Third Circuit Court which reverses the conviction based of grounds of free speech.  It also overturns the 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law.

The HSUS, American Humane Association and 26 state Attorneys General ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and to allow “reasonable regulation of this commercial activity.”  They report that Stevens has been involved in the world of dog fighting for many years and advertises his books and tapes in underground dog fighting publications.

Stevens and his lawyers call him a documentary maker who opposes dog fighting.They claim “he is an educator, and his subject is the history and status of pit bulls.”  Stevens’ son said his father’s only crime is his lifelong fascination with pit bulls.

The Supreme Court has a lot of information to digest regarding this case and reinstating the 1999 law.  Let’s hope they rule on the side of the humane treatment and protection of innocent animals.

Humane Society of Missouri

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holly masih
holly masih2 years ago

OK, so you can't ban the videos.Get a copy,there is your proof in court,and prosecute them for animal cruelty,not for the tapes.

Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for informative article.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for informative article.

Cindy C.
Cindy C.5 years ago

Those poor dogs and the people that make the dogs do this ought to get life in jail.

pierluigi bonatesta

Dogfighting is animal abuse!

Liz F.
Liz F.5 years ago

I get the issue now. I am obviously against dog fighting but I didn't understand the legal issues with the video. Thank you for posting this article.

Steven Heaver
Steven Heaver6 years ago

Dog fighting videos are not free speech and should have no protection. The law already specifies the video, to be illegal, must have "no serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value." So I don't know why there is so much controversy about this law endangering the ability of organizations to report on animal issues. Hopefully the Court is wise enough to see the law, as it exists, has done a lot of good and already contains built-in protections.

Animalib B.
.6 years ago

This is a step backwards for animal protection laws and it will encourage animal cruelty. Who ever this judge is should not be allowed to continue as a judge, he must sick in the head. I just hope they reinstate the laws.

Sher M.
Sheryl M.6 years ago

I wish the public television stations would advertise all of the animal cruelty cases that go on in the world to open peoples' eyes to some truths out there. So far, people are still in the dark about where petstores REALLY get their cute little puppies and kittens from...