Bill Raises Serious First Amendment Concerns

April 24, 2013

CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director, 615-320-7142

NASHVILLE –The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to Governor Bill Haslam urging him to veto Tennessee’s “Ag Gag” legislation, SB 1248/HB 1191, which unconstitutionally chills the free speech of citizens and journalists seeking to expose animal cruelty.

“While purporting to protect livestock from abuse, this legislation actually takes the harmful step of violating free speech rights and criminally punishing those who seek to document and expose such cruelty,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “While the government can and should take steps to end animal abuse, this legislation only tramples on the First Amendment, protecting animal abusers in the process.”

SB 1248/HB 1191 requires that anyone taking photographs and video recordings of livestock abuse turn these over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face criminal charges and fines.

This requirement, according to ACLU-TN’s letter, targets constitutionally-protected recordings, not the act of abusing livestock. The U.S. Supreme Court recently held in United States v. Stevens that such recordings are protected by the First Amendment.

Furthermore, the legislation’s reporting requirement could significantly chill constitutionally-protected freedom of the press, the letter continues. “Journalists and filmmakers would understandably fear that SB 1248/HB 1191’s requirement would jeopardize their sources and thwart their investigations. The requirement would thereby serve as a disincentive to produce revelatory works that could help end livestock abuse.”

The letter urges Governor Haslam to veto SB 1248/HB 1191 because “this legislation does not help stop animal cruelty but instead violates free speech rights and criminally punishes those who seek to end this crime.”

A copy of ACLU-TN’s letter urging Governor Haslam to veto the “ag gag” legislation can be found here.