Appeals court blocks enforcement of Kansas’ ‘ag-gag’ law

August 20, 2021 GMT

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has blocked enforcement of provisions in a Kansas law that ban the secret filming at slaughterhouses and other livestock facilities, finding that the statute seeks to stifle speech critical of animal agriculture.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a split decision Thursday ruled that even if deception is used to enter private property, Kansas may not discriminate based on whether the person intends to harm or help the enterprise.

“But that is the effect, and stated purpose, of the provisions at issue,” the appeals court said. “And the statute is not limited to false speech lacking constitutional protection. Instead, it punishes entry with the intent to tell the truth on a matter of public concern.”

The decision upholds a permanent injunction issued last year by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil.

Kansas’ “ag-gag” law, enacted in 1990, made it a crime for anyone to take a picture or video at animal facilities without the owner’s consent or to enter them under false pretenses.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc., and Hope Sanctuary sued.

“Kansas has hindered the ability of whistleblowers to expose inhumane conditions associated with factory farms for more than three decades while infringing on First Amendment rights,” Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a news release. “The Tenth Circuit’s decision is a victory for animals throughout the state who are forced into industrial animal agriculture and suffer in secret, behind closed doors.”

The Kansas attorney general’s office said Friday that it is reviewing the court’s “disappointing decision” and will determine its next steps in the weeks ahead.

“Kansas enacted this law to add an additional layer of protection regarding unauthorized access to agricultural facilities, and to help improve security measures against those who seek to disrupt the food supply,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release. “Animal agriculture is vitally important to our state’s economic well-being.”

His office noted that earlier this month the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar Iowa law, creating a split of opinions among federal appeals courts.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund said courts have struck down similar provisions in Iowa, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week cleared the way for a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ law, while a lawsuit in North Carolina is pending in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.