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ID Challenge to 'Ag-Gag' Ruling Goes to Federal Appeals Court

A federal judge struck down Idaho's ag-gag law, which cracks down on whistleblowers who reveal conditions for animals at agricultural facilities. (Stephane Mignon/Flickr)
A federal judge struck down Idaho's ag-gag law, which cracks down on whistleblowers who reveal conditions for animals at agricultural facilities. (Stephane Mignon/Flickr)
January 9, 2017

BOISE, Idaho -- When a district court threw out Idaho's "ag-gag" law, the state appealed the ruling - and that case is still in court.

Oral arguments in the federal appeals case are expected in April over the Idaho law that makes it illegal for food-safety and animal-rights activists to gain employment at farm facilities under false pretenses, or to document the conditions for animals at those facilities.

Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the original case, said Idaho isn't the only state with ag-gag laws - but it is the only state where they have been struck down in court.

"Idaho is one of eight states that have passed these statutes that essentially turn whistleblowers into criminals,” Liebman said. "We filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that statute under the First Amendment, the right of free speech, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection to everyone under the law."

According to the publication "Food Safety News," Idaho officials contend in written arguments in the appeal that the First Amendment doesn't protect video or audio recording as free speech. Officials also claimed these kinds of whistle-blower activities infringe on agricultural landowners' property rights.

But Liebman said these statutes aren't about property rights, and activists aren't using their cameras to violate landowners' privacy. He contends ag-gag laws are shielding the farm and dairy industries from criticism.

"This really isn't about privacy at all. It's about trying to cover up cruelty to animals and unsafe food practices that people have a right to know about,” Liebman said.

Ag-gag laws are being challenged in federal courts in three other states: North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. Liebman said he expects a decision in the Utah case soon.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID