BELLE PLAINE (AP) – A federal appeals court has blocked the application of provisions of a Kansas law banning covert filming at slaughterhouses and other livestock facilities, saying the law seeks to stifle critical rhetoric at with regard to animal agriculture.
A three-judge panel from the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals in a split decision Thursday ruled that even though deception is used to enter private property, Kansas cannot discriminate based on whether the person has the intention to harm or assist the business.
“But that is the declared effect and purpose of the provisions at issue,” the appeals court said. “And the law is not limited to false speech without constitutional protection. Instead, it punishes entry with the intention of telling the truth on a matter of public interest.”
The ruling upholds a permanent injunction issued last year by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil.
Kansas’ ag-gag law, enacted in 1990, makes it an offense to take a photo or video in a pet store without the owner’s consent or to enter it under false pretenses.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc. and Hope Sanctuary sued.
“Kansas has hampered the ability of whistleblowers to expose the inhumane conditions associated with factory farms for more than three decades while violating First Amendment rights,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in A press release. “The Tenth Circuit decision is a victory for animals across the state who are forced into factory farming and suffering in secret, behind closed doors.”
The Kansas attorney general’s office said on Friday it was reviewing the court’s “disappointing decision” and would determine its next steps in the weeks to come.
“Kansas enacted this law to add an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access to farming facilities and to help improve security measures against those seeking to disrupt the food supply,” the attorney general said. Kansas, Derek Schmidt, in a press release. “Animal agriculture is vitally important to the economic well-being of our state.
His office noted that earlier this month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar Iowa law, creating a division of opinions between federal courts of appeals.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund said courts struck down similar provisions in Iowa, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week paved the way for a lawsuit challenging Arkansas law, while a North Carolina lawsuit is pending in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.