Kansas Ag Gag Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Aug. 20, 2021
A federal appeals court has held that a Kansas “ag gag” law forbidding animal-rights activists from documenting animal abuse is unconstitutional.

A federal appeals court has held that a Kansas “ag gag” law forbidding animal-rights activists from documenting animal abuse is unconstitutional.

In a split decision, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld lower federal courts in rejecting the Kansas statute. The law was intended to prevent animal-rights activists from gaining employment at farms or processing facilities and surreptitiously recording how animals are treated there.

The decisions revolved around whether falsifying or concealing one’s true intent in employment applications and interviews is protected speech. Kansas contended that the law prohibits conduct, not speech, and that speech intended to lead to criminal acts is not protected.

Writing for the court, U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh ruled that the law regulates speech because it controls what individuals may say to gain employment, and that the kind of speech in question cannot be considered unprotected if it results in accurate documentation of what goes on at farms and plants. "Dissemination of true information cannot be a legally cognizable harm," McHugh wrote.

The dissenter of the three-person panel, Judge Harris Hartz, wrote that "lies uttered to obtain consent to enter the premises of an agricultural facility are not protected speech."

Ag gag laws have been the subject of litigation in several states for years. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court reinstated a challenge to an Arkansas ag-gag statute. The same court, however, ruled that a key provision in an Iowa ag-gag law was constitutional.

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