Federal Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Animal Extremists; Softens Laws Protecting Farmers

By Jaclyn De Candio for Protect The Harvest

In February 2023, a federal appeals court scaled back a lower-court ruling that threw out portions of a North Carolina law (the Property Protection Act or House Bill 405) designed, in part, to prevent undercover animal rights operatives masquerading as employees at farms and other workplaces from stealing documents or recording video Associated Press reported. Challenges of this law, and others like it, come from groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which laud this ruling as a victory.

Although so-called “ag-gag” laws were established to protect property and animals on farms, ranches, animal testing facilities, and other establishments from deceitful trespassing, engaging in illicit undercover video and audio recording, mainstream news media working in concert with animal extremists have vilified these measures.

The need for farm protections

The term “ag-gag” worked its way into our common vocabulary around 2011, when it was featured in a New York Times column. The term is used to refer to any state law that forbids or restrains undercover extremist activities. These laws are often demonized by the mainstream media. Similar laws have been enacted to protect other industries and businesses against domestic terrorists. Mainstream media largely sympathizes with animal extremists’ vegan-driven agenda to end animal protein as food and animal ownership for any reason. Animal rights extremists are not journalists, although some courts have ordained them as such.

In previous Protect The Harvest articles, such as the one covering the Fair Oaks Farms incident, we’ve shared how animal activist groups leverage their hidden agendas and tactics they use to distort the truth with the images, audio, and statements they collect from going undercover. They have become well versed in “disinformation,” otherwise known as “lies.”

Unfortunately, even the most proactive legal measures cannot always block anti-agriculture and animal extremism efforts. We’ve repeatedly seen how ag-gag laws have been ignored by groups such as Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), a radical animal rights group founded in Berkeley, California. Even when animal extremists are prosecuted, there is an alarming trend of courts not following laws by granting plea deals or throwing out cases. Seeing laws in North Carolina softened or stricken down should be disconcerting to everyone producing food animals. Such decisions embolden animal rights extremists.

Enabling extremism in the name of “reporting”

A 2-1 decision in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 2020 decision striking down four provisions “went too far” regarding secretive activities conducted by PETA and similar groups in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause in cases where undercover work was done as “newsgathering activities.” The ultimate decision was made by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder. We reiterate that undercover animal rights extremists are not newsgathering journalists, even though the court anointed them as such.

Both the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation and Attorney General Josh Stein, defending the law in court, attempted to take the ruling to the Supreme Court where – unfortunately and disturbingly – this alleged First Amendment case was not heard.

Concerning implications

A Fortune article reported that the Farm Bureau’s attorney, Jake Parker, cited the Supreme Court’s decision as “disappointing and troubling.” He also noted, “…farmers and other business owners should consider themselves activist targets and take caution when hiring new employees.”

The article further stated: “Stein’s office had told the justices there were conflicting decisions among circuits ‘about whether audio-visual recording always constitutes protected speech or whether recording may be unprotected when it takes place on nonpublic property without the property owner’s consent.’”

Another big concern is that this isn’t limited solely to agriculture. The court’s decision extends to other industries as well, exposing them to being documented, filmed, and recorded without their consent so long as any infiltrator claims to be “gathering news.”

Lack of protections for farmers

The Farm Bureau made a strong case that the purpose of the state law was not against free speech; rather it was about protecting entities from worker deceit, disloyalty and trespassing. It now appears that Federal Courts view free speech “rights” being whatever someone wants to claim as “newsgathering,” whether or not the information they gather is going to be edited, misleading or otherwise doctored to fit a specific narrative. Even liberal social media platform Facebook would likely ban such behavior!

This situation also feeds into preexisting trespassing concerns, with emboldened extremists making their way onto farms and private businesses. Even when law enforcement becomes involved, time and again, the courts are not enforcing the law by applying appropriate penalties/punishments.

Public awareness is important in this battle of “right” versus “wrong.” Many times, extremist groups cloak their ultimate agendas (a vegan world without animal products or industries) to claim they are “exposing” the evil agriculture industry by the disclosure work they do.

Farmers, ranchers, and supporters must remain vigilant regarding what is happening in their states. We must keep fighting for A Free and Fed America™. To learn more about how you can get involved in your community to protect your rights, visit our website.

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