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Animal Rights, Free Speech Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Iowa's Ag Whistleblower Law

Mercy For Animals MFA
Some pigs in a gestation crate, a metal enclosure used in intensive pig farming operations, in which a female breeding pig (sow) may be kept during pregnancy and for most of her adult life.

This week, animal rights and free speech organizations filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa that challenges a state law from 2012, often referred to as Iowa’s ag-gag law or ag-whistleblower law.  The law  made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm through misrepresentation in order to conduct an undercover animal cruelty investigation.

The groups - Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety and Public Justice - claim that Iowa’s law violates their constitutional free speech and equal protection rights.

Federal courts have struck down similar laws in the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with law professor Erika George to get an idea of how the Iowa lawsuit may fair.

“Where someone’s entering a property and not disrupting what’s going on at the property--that’s protected kind of conduct, where they’re seeking to record and share and disseminate information. For example, it’s one thing to storm a farm and save a cow or a chicken; it’s quite another to stand and record and share what the conditions of production are,” George says. “Our court determined that that kind of activity was protectable by the First Amendment.”

George is a Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law at the University of Utah, and she followed the Utah case banning undercover filming at farms.

Other segments this hour include conversations with: Charity Anderson of Cedar Falls, who now lives close to the wildfires in California; IPR correspondent Dean Borg who discusses the search for the next Iowa State University president; Dr. Kathleen Romanowski of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, who talks about trends in emergency department visits before and after implementation of Iowa’s new fireworks law; Paddy Ekkekakis, who is a kinesiology professor at Iowa State University; and Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, who gives his reaction to the news that the U.S. will withdraw from UNESCO.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River