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Animal Rights and the Erosion of the First Amendment: AETA, Ag-Gag and Why You Should Care

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Last week the First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit challenging the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Last month the governor of Idaho signed into law a bill that makes it illegal to make any audio or video recordings of livestock operations without explicit permission. Each of these legal developments has the animal-rights community up in arms, but the impact will be felt far wider than among a small group of activists. It's not simply the curtailment of practices used by activists to expose animal operations; it's in fact the abridgment of the right of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a federal law passed in 2006, under the conservative presidency of George W. Bush. Essentially, the act criminalizes anyone who travels in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise in a way that "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise." On its face, perhaps, the law is not overly broad. However, the problem comes in with the definition of "animal enterprise." Under the act, "animal enterprise is defined as:

(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research, or testing;

(B) a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet store, breeder, furrier, circus, or rodeo, or other lawful competitive animal event; or

(C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences.    
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