Professor Questions Constitutionality of Ag-Gag Bill

The so-called Ag-Gag bill moving through the Indiana House won’t pass constitutional muster, according to an Indiana University law professor. Supporters say it will protect farmers from exploitation by activist groups. Senate Bill 373 cleared the House last week with an amendment that makes it a Class A misdemeanor to photograph at a farm or business without the owner’s written permission. IU law professor Seth Lahn believes the bill violates the First Amendment.

“Whether you come at it from a position of food safety or working conditions or animal cruelty – it gets into a number of areas that, I think, the courts have always recognized – and common sense tells you – is an issue the public has an interest in hearing about,” said Lahn.

Lahn says there already are legal ways to get at prohibited conduct: charges of trespassing, fraud, and destruction of property. Friend’s amendment also added a new crime to the bill – lying on a job application with the intent of harming a business. No public comment was allowed on the amendment before the bill passed out of committee 9 to 3 on a party-line vote.

Humane Society of the United States Indiana State Director Erin Huang worries about what’s happening behind the scenes that brought this bill about.

“You know, big ag is trying to push this – and push a bill that would keep people from knowing what’s happening with their food production. Just goes to show how much they have to hide,” said Huang.

National GOP strategist Mary Matalin, in an unlikely pairing with the animal-rights group PETA, released a video message directed at Hoosier lawmakers. She says this time she agrees with her husband, Democratic strategist James Carville.

“I’m sending you this video appeal – because you have before you a bill that would criminalize filming on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. My husband James and I may be polar opposites on most political issues – but on this one we’re together – we are asking you to please vote against these ag-gag bills,” she said.

In the video, Matalin says instead of fixing the problems, they’re trying to blame the messenger. She listed farm-animal abuse cases in West Virginia and Iowa where undercover PETA videotapes helped prosecutors convict those responsible.