Freedom of Speech Vs. Animal Cruelty: Which Wins?Published October 12, 2009
What actually determines our first amendment rights concerning "freedom of speech?" one might ask. Is it permissible for blatant acts of cruelty to animals which are, under the guise of "artistic creativity", featured in videos and film, to be permitted to fall under the protection of the first amendment? On October 6, the Supreme Court started considering a case titled "US v Stevens. At the heart of the case is a statute which makes it a criminal act to possess, sell or make videos or other distribution of films depicting violent acts of animal cruelty. The outcome of this case may result in either the protection of innocent animals, or, on the other hand may uphold the Exception (b) below, which is very disturbing. Photo Credit: USA Today In 2005, Robert J. Stevens, residing in Virginia, received a sentence of 37 months imprisonment for selling videos which violated the "Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act ", (18 U.S.C Section 48) a 10-year old statue which is part reads:"(a) Creation, Sale, or Possession.-- Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. (b) Exception. -- Subsection (a) does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value. (c) Definitions.-- In this section-- (1) the term "depiction of animal cruelty" means any visual or auditory depiction, including any photograph, motion-picture film, video recording, electronic image, or sound recording of conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal under Federal law or the law of the State in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place, regardless of whether the maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding, or killing took place in the State; The intention of this statute is to end the sale of "crush videos" which featured women in stiletto heels, piercing the body parts, or crushing small animals such as kittens, chicks and puppies under their feet. Unfortunately, the producers, directors and distributers of these films, which carry strong sexual innuendos, were impossible to prosecute since their identities were not able to be determined. Steven's chilling videos included, among other acts of unmistakable acts of cruelty to dogs, gruesome images of pit bulls attacking a domestic pig to teach it to hunt wild boars and were advertised for sale in various sporting dog publications as "training" videos. Stevens argued that his videos were made for training purposes instructing dog owners which demonstrated the improper way to train pit bulls to hunt. The US Appellate Court for the Third Circuit overturned the trial court's decision on Steven's appeal, and additionally nullified the statute which eliminated any exception to the First Amendment for animal cruelty. Saying that the prevention of animal cruelty was "appealing . . . to our sensibilities" but found that such "appeal was not a "compelling governmental interest, in the context of freedom of speech". Therefore § 48 failed strict scrutiny because "it serves no compelling government interest, is not narrowly tailored to achieve such an interest, and does not provide the least restrictive means to achieve such an interest." This case will test Judge Sotomayor's promise to opine by "principle over the prejudicial elements of the crime". It is indeed alarming that the Supreme Court could consider ruling in favor for the right to produce and distribute films which depict such blatant acts of animal cruelty under first amendment protection. Since child pornography is not shielded by the first amendment, why isn't the protection of innocent animals just as compelling? What is most disturbing is that the staging of "crush videos" can be punished by local authorities, with prison sentences and hefty fines levied but may ultimately fall under the protection of the Supreme Court's decision. The Supreme Court may find these videos and films abhorrent but will they truly examine the extent of what qualifies for First Amendment protection. We must wait for the Court's decision, which will be published later this year. But according, to "Talkers Magazine", "the tone of the hearing implies that the justices are leaning toward affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals in overturning the law." Why does this fine line even exist between the Constitutional First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and the press, and the protection of animals from horrendous abuse? Leave a comment and share your opinion.