Iowa Judge rules First Amendment allows activists to record animal abuse on farms, but doesn’t allow trespassing

On Monday, a Judge in Iowa ruled that animal rights activists are allowed to record possible animal abuse on farms under their First Amendment rights.

Judge Stephanie Rose of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Iowa said in her ruling that the 2021 Iowa “ag-gag” law, which was put in place to stop undercover investigations of farms in Iowa by animal rights activists denies the right to free speech by attacking particular content.

According to Reason, the “ag-gag” law effectively outlaws making a video recording while illegally trespassing on private property by using “a camera or electronic surveillance device that transmits or records images or data while the device is on the trespassed property.”

Rose ruled that while Iowa will continue to punish those who trespass on private property, it cannot attempt to prevent individuals or groups from making recordings while doing so.

While the content recorded, which includes animal abuse, may be disturbing, it remains protected under the First Amendment.

On August 10th, 2021, a group animal-rights organizations  sued Iowa for a breach of 1st amendment rights. The lawsuit aimed to block Iowa enforcing a ban on unauthorized recordings while trespassing, arguing that the statute “impermissibly restricts speech by making it a crime to place an electronic surveillance device on trespassed property.”

The state of Iowa argued stated that their law bans a certain type of conduct, in this case trespassing, not speech itself, and thus is not subject to First Amendment oversight.

The state said that even if they did regulate speech it “is narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest” and would thus be constitutional, Reason reported.

Judge Rose sided with the animal-rights organizations, ruling that making a video recording is a form of protected speech.

“Motion pictures and videos are included within the First Amendment’s ambit,” she wrote. “In addition to the doctrine regarding the creation of speech, the Eighth Circuit has found that recording, production, editing, and publication of videos is protected speech.”

Rose continued, “It is true that the Act does not prohibit the editing, publication, or distribution of recordings or photographs on trespassed property. But it restricts the capture of such recordings or photographs, rendering the remaining steps in the protected video production process impossible. The act of recording is a necessary predicate to produce this protected speech and is protected under the First Amendment.”




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Paul, 37, is from Scotland in the UK, but currently lives and works in Bangkok. Paul has worked in different industries such as telemarketing, retail, hospitality, farming, insurance, and teaching, where he works now. He teaches at an all-girls High School in Bangkok. “It’s a lot of work, but I love my job.” Paul has an active interest in politics. His reason for writing for FBA is to offer people the facts and allow them to make up their own minds. Whilst he believes opinion columns have their place, it is also important that people can have accurate news with no bias.

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