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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

‘Ag gag’ law: Constitutional rights or ‘motherhood and apple pie’?

When Idaho lawmakers passed the state’s “ag gag” law in 2014, criminalizing surreptitious videotaping of agricultural operations, they said they were targeting “agri-terrorism” and “extremists” who target “our farm families,” particularly by publishing damaging videos online. Now those statements are at issue in federal court, where the law is being challenged as an unconstitutional content-based restriction on free speech – in part because it imposes hefty penalties on those who record at agricultural operations, but not at other types of businesses. The lawmakers’ comments also are being used as evidence of a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, showing that lawmakers were specifically targeting animal activists with the law.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, at a hearing in the case last week, compared the issue to the targeting of ACORN by conservative activists, who under false pretenses, videotaped members of the liberal community organizing group at their offices and used the video to undermine the group’s credibility.

“The principles at stake here don’t really have any politics,” Winmill said. “They don’t even have economics. What they have is just a question of constitutional law. … It’s just a question of what the First Amendment means and how it should be applied in the context of a law of this sort.”

Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, the House sponsor of the law, was in the audience for the hearing, and bristled at the suggestion that misrepresenting oneself to get a farm job and then taking surreptitious video to publish could be protected under the Constitution.

“We’re talking about motherhood and apple pie here,” she said. “Regardless of what they argued, we’re talking about private property rights and the need to tell the truth.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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