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Judge: Idaho's anti-dairy spying law unconstitutional

| Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, 9:36 p.m.

BOISE — A federal judge ruled Monday that Idaho's law banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities is unconstitutional, giving animal rights activists across the country hope that the decision will pave the way to overturn similar laws in other states.

U.S. Judge Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the law violates the First Amendment.

“Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored,” Winmill wrote in his 29-page ruling. “Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistleblowers from recording an agricultural facility's operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.”

A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued the state more than a year ago, opposing the so-called “ag gag” law. The coalition said the law curtailed freedom of speech and made gathering proof of animal abuse a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty.

The ruling is the first in the country to deem an anti-dairy spying law unconstitutional, said Mathew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the lead attorneys on the Idaho case.

“This decision vindicates the public's rights to know how animals are treated before they become meat,” Liebman said.

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