Iowa ‘Ag-Gag’ Law Violates First Amendment, Rules Federal Court

In another welcome victory for undercover animal protection investigations, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa just struck down Iowa’s “ag-gag” law, finding it an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

Iowa thus joins Utah, Wyoming and Idaho as yet another state where a court has struck down an “ag-gag” law as unconstitutional.

In 2012, Iowa criminalized “agricultural production facility fraud.” That law meant whistleblowers and undercover investigators at facilities like factory farms, puppy mills and slaughterhouses couldn’t reveal issues like animal abuse, environmental violations, workers’ rights transgressions and food safety violations. If they did, they could be charged and prosecuted.

slaughtered chickens

Photo credit: Getty Images

According to Iowa’s law, you’d commit “agricultural production facility fraud” if you willfully:

a. Obtain access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses, or]

b. Make a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement
to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if you know the statement to be false, and make the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.

The penalty was up to a year behind bars. Now, that’s no longer a threat. In the the half decade since the law was passed, it has unquestionably had a chilling effect — no new investigative videos have emerged from Iowa facilities.

Clearly, ag-gag laws end up in place because of state politicians who want to help their big money farming constituents. Yes, they assert that the law intends to “make sure our livestock is being kept safe” and to protect agriculture biosecurity.

What’s the real reason, though? One state senator said it straight out.

“What we’re aiming at is stopping these groups that go out and gin up campaigns that they use to raise money by trying to give the agriculture industry a bad name,” according to former state senator Tom Reilly.

Undercover investigations in the state by groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Compassion Over Killing revealed factory farm workers beating pigs with metal rods, sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces, and a supervisor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen and genitals to make her move.


Photo credit: Getty Images

Just about the time those videos were attracting attention, the state took up the question of how to stop these damaging revelations.

Sorry, Iowa lawmakers. You can’t cover up horrific abuse by legally muzzling workers, whistleblowers and the media. Here’s yet another judge who found what you did to be an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

It’s the agricultural industry’s own practices that give it a bad name, Senator Reilly. Money is not more important than treating animals and workers fairly and kindly. Overhaul your practices and there’ll be no need to uncover the truth and expose it.

Was any Iowa lawmaker even a little embarrassed to pass a law shielding the agriculture industry from being confronted with evidence of its wrongdoing?

The coalition of plaintiffs in this case included the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), PETA, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Center for Food Safety, Bailing Out Benji, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Public Justice, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar.

They filed suit challenging Iowa’s ag-gag law in 2017. Senior Judge James Gritzner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa determined that if the state is going to restrict protected speech, the restriction must be “actually necessary” to achieve the state’s “compelling interest.” It wasn’t so in this case.


Photo credit: Getty Images

Gritzner also found Iowa’s law to be overly broad, in that it “includes no limiting features whatsoever, allowing it to apply even to the most innocent of circumstances.” To allow criminalization of the kind of undercover investigation techniques at issue here goes far beyond what is necessary to protect the state’s interests and allows for expansive prosecution, noted the court.

“Ag-Gag laws are a pernicious attempt by animal exploitation industries to hide some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the United States,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “Today’s victory makes it clear that the government cannot protect these industries at the expense of our constitutional rights.”

Dominoes are falling, Big Ag. You can stop pressing your politician buddies to enact ag-gag laws now. Suppressing free speech will always be unconstitutional. How many judges need to tell you that?

Spend your time and effort cleaning up your factory farms, slaughterhouses and puppy mills. Animal protection advocates are watching closely.


Demand that every state refuse to enact “ag-gag” laws by signing this petition.  Care2 will send it to lawmakers in all 50 states, ensuring your voice is heard across the United States on this important issue.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: Getty Images


Mark Donner
Mark Donner5 months ago

The animals don't want to be tortured, so there's that. But they don't want to be mass murdered either. Behind the fancy meat packaging on store meat counters is unspeakable horror and carnage. What disgusting humans call a "society" is built on a mass murdering nightmare.

Jeff I
Jeff Idso5 months ago

You cannot "farm" animals. They are sentient beings so glad the law is changing. People really need to be aware of what they eat; the food processed from these places is not healthy.

Angela K
Angela K5 months ago

Petition already signed & shared

HEIKKI R5 months ago

thank you

Caitlin L
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you for sharing

Janet B
Janet B6 months ago


Mike H
Mike H6 months ago

A rare bit of good news for animals

Frances G
Past Member 6 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Henry M
Henry M6 months ago

As Sir Paul McCartney said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian."

robert d
robert Dowling6 months ago

factoruy farms, abuse to animals personified