Free Speech and Animal Cruelty

On 13th April, the United States Supreme Court rejected laws preventing the sale of animal cruelty videos.
The 8-1 vote last Tuesday overturned the 1999 federal statute prohibiting the sale of “any depiction” in which “a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed.” The rejected law essentially prohibited graphic depictions or media of what is already classified as illegal animal cruelty.

The 1999 law was drafted in response to an illegal trade in videos which filmed small animals being crushed to death by women in high-heeled shoes. In overturning this law, the Supreme Court based their decision on the Constitution’s First Amendment, which reads,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In case you missed the part about filming illegal acts of violence against animals, I’ve put that part in italics. On the basis that Congress cannot pass a law “abridging the freedom of speech”, the Supreme Court felt that it was appropriate to overturn the 1999 statute.

The First Amendment and Free Expression

Justice Alioto, the one dissenting judge, noted that the rejected law was never intended to suppress speech, but to prevent the creation and commercial exploitation of horrific acts of animal cruelty as a form of depraved entertainment. However, Justice Alioto is clearly in the minority. Conventional wisdom – backed up by dozens of court verdicts – has long held that the Constitution’s First Amendment protects not simply the political opinions printed in newspapers, but “free expression” in the broadest sense. Over the years, the First Amendment has been brought to the defense of everything from child pornography to bestiality. In the 1987 case Wilkinson v. Jones, the Court used the First Amendment to make it illegal for states to prohibit the broadcasting of nudity, sex acts and other indecent material.

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5 thoughts on “Free Speech and Animal Cruelty

  1. If we can’t outlaw porn (how I wish we could!) then we sure as heck shouldn’t be able to outlaw something like animal cruelty, which is bad but not nearly as horrible and depraved as the absolute objectification of women — and sometimes men — that is pornography.

  2. Just as the saying goes that you are never too old to learn. I believe it. At first keeping reading all the way can enrich our leisure and knowledge. We can learn a lot from reading. Do you think so?

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