Animal activist organizations want to conduct undercover investigations by gaining entry to the nonpublic areas of private property and collecting evidence of animal abuse in the form of audio or video recordings or other documentation.
Animal agriculture does not want those uninvited visitors, and first tried expanded criminal statutes to make such undercover missions illegal with incarceration and fines as penalties.
In those cases involving such criminal statutes in Idaho, Utah, and Iowa, federal judges ruled these so-called “ag-gag” laws were mostly unconstitutional. An undercover video is protected speech, according to multiple federal court opinions. And the states cannot make it a crime.
Then along came North Carolina. It’s 4-year-old Property Protection Act is an attempt to solve animal agriculture’s problem with unwanted visitors without relying on criminal law. Instead, the Tar Heel state makes “interference with property” another cause for a civil action that a future state court will then have to sort out.
After North Carolina rolled out its “civil” approach, it was not long before Arkansas followed. And federal courts are now reviewing the North Carolina and Arkansas civil statutes, which offer the potential of compensation for being spied upon.
North Carolina’s Property Protection Act has already been up and down the federal courts. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to the Middle District Court for North Carolina with instructions to review two constitutional issues. Court documents show it’s on its way to a civil trial with Dispositive Motions due by Sept. 3.
And last month, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Animal Equality, Center for Biological Diversity and Food Chain Workers Alliance sued Prayer Creek Farm and Tuscaloosa, AL-based Peco Foods Inc. over the new cause of civil action in Arkansas. Also named are State Rep, DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio and her husband Jonathan, owners of Prayer Creek Farm in Horatio, AR.
Filled in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the animal activists claim Arkansas Code 16-118-113 prevents them from running an undercover operation on Prayer Creek Farm and Peco’s Arkansas facilities.
Rep. Vaught sponsored the 2017 law, and the animal activists fear if they go undercover at Prayer Creek and Peco Foods, she’ll sue them for damages. She has not commented the federal lawsuit was filed on June 25.
In that complaint, the animal activists claim they “have specific and definite plans to investigate Prayer Creek Farm and Peco Foods Inc.’s Arkansas facilities so they can use that information to challenge the animal cruelty, farm to workers, and environmental catastrophes these operations are causing in the state.”
They also claim Jonathan and DeAnn Vaught, who own and operate the family farm “refused to waive their rights under the law.” The complaint does not provide any argument as to why anyone would waive their “rights under the law.”
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