full story and comments here:
Sarahjane Blum removing a duck from a farm where it had been raised for fois
gras. Blum and four other activists have challenged a domestic terrorism law
aimed at animal rights activists. (GourmetCruelty.com)
By Dean Kuipers
December 15, 2011, 11:23 a.m.
Attorneys with the
Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit Thursday in Massachusetts
challenging the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,
saying the controversial business protection law has the potential to
criminalize many forms of protest that are protected by the First Amendment.
Passed with much fanfare in 2006 as a reaction to attacks on fur farms
and other businesses by shadowy animal rights groups such as the Animal
Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, the law has not been used
as much as initially expected, primarily because of problems defining the
'We're filing a federal lawsuit in
Massachusetts on behalf of five activists who have devoted years of their
lives to animal rights advocacy. We are challenging the Animal Enterprise
Terrorism Act as unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment" as
well as the constitutional right to due process, said Rachel Meerpol, a
staff attorney at the center.
The AETA, as the law is known,
prohibits damaging or interfering with an animal enterprise by causing
damage or loss of property, by intentionally making some individual fear for
his or her safety, or by conspiracy. The allows for domestic terrorism
charges and affords extremely severe penalties, including terror sentencing
The law was first used against a group of California
animal rights activists nicknamed the 'AETA 4,' who picketed at the homes of
researchers who used animals in their work. In 2009, the judge in that case
threw out the indictment, saying the alleged threats presented by the
defendants were too vague, writing:
'While 'true threats' enjoy no
First Amendment protection, picketing and political protest are at the very
core of what is protected by the First Amendment. Where the defendants'
conduct falls on this spectrum in this case will very likely ultimately be
decided by a jury. Before this case proceeds to a jury, however, the
defendants are entitled to a more specific indictment setting forth their
conduct alleged to be criminal.'
Thursday's suit, Blum v. Holder,
challenges the statute's profit-loss prong.
'The law criminalizes
causing damage or loss to the real or personal property of an animal
enterprise,' explains Meerpol. 'Because those terms aren't defined, you have
to take them at their common usage. And under common usage, 'personal
property' includes money, includes profits. So that means that the acts can
fairly be read to criminalize anyone who causes a business to lose profits.
Activists from any social movements could be subject to prosecution as
terrorists if their advocacy, if their lawful protest, affects the bottom
line of a business.'
That could potentially include boycotts or any
advocacy that dissuades consumers from buying a company's products ' for
instance, endorsing vegetarianism.
The five plaintiffs are animal
rights activists whose complaint is that they can no longer engage in lawful
advocacy out of fear of prosecution under the AETA.
Sarahjane Blum and Ryan Shapiro, for instance, made a film in 2004 called
'Delicacy of Despair' about the farming of ducks whose livers are fattened
for fois gras. Both now contend that the AETA has chilled their ability to
engage the media or conduct public campaigns for fear of prosecution as
'We're asking for the statute to be struck down as
unconstitutional, and for defendants to not be allowed to enforce it against
anyone, including the plaintiffs,' adds Meerpol.
full story and photos:
December 15, 2011
By DENISE LAVOIE
A group of animal rights activists sued the U.S. government Thursday to
challenge the constitutionality of a rarely used law they say treats them
like terrorists if they cause a loss in profits for businesses that use or
sell animal products.
Five activists represented by the Center for
Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit in federal court in Boston, asking
that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act be struck down as unconstitutional
because it has a chilling effect on lawful protest activities.
attorney Rachel Meeropol said the 2006 law has left activists afraid to
participate in public protests out of fear they will be prosecuted.
"There are many terms in the law that are not defined, and because of that
protesters don't have notice that certain conduct is going to violate the
statute and what conduct is protected by the First Amendment," Meeropol
"Some of my clients want to engage in simple public protests '
perhaps in front of a fur store ' to change public opinion about fur," she
said. "But they feel restricted from engaging in that clearly lawful
activity because under the plain language of the law, if that protest is
successful in convincing consumers not to shop at that fur store, they could
be charged as terrorists."
The law can be used to prosecute someone
for damaging or interfering with the operations of an "animal enterprise"
when a person "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or
personal property used by an animal enterprise" or a business connected to
an animal enterprise.
Meeropol said courts have interpreted
"personal property" to include a loss of profits for the business.
The law also can be used to prosecute anyone who "intentionally places a
person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury" through
threats, vandalism, harassment or intimidation.
General Eric Holder is the only defendant named in the lawsuit. A Justice
Department representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The law has been rarely used since it was enacted in 2006, but
Meeropol said the cases of those who have been prosecuted instilled fear
among animal rights activists.
In 2009, four activists were charged
for allegedly participating in threatening demonstrations at the homes of
University of California scientists who did animal research. Prosecutors
also alleged that the four created or distributed a flier listing the
professors' home addresses and stating, "animal abusers everywhere beware we
know where you live we know where you work we will never back down until you
end your abuse." A judge eventually dismissed the charges.
activists were indicted in Utah in 2009 for releasing hundreds of animals
from a mink farm. Both pleaded guilty to animal enterprise terrorism and
were sentenced to 21 months and 24 months in prison.
graduate student was sentenced to six months in prison for working with
other activists in a 2006 raid on a farm where dozens of breeding ferrets
were let loose. Scott Ryan DeMuth pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy
to commit animal enterprise terrorism under a deal with federal prosecutors
in Iowa. Prosecutors said the raid contributed to the ferret farm's closure
months later and destroyed the owner's livelihood.
Ryan Shapiro, a
longtime animal rights activist from Cambridge who is one of the plaintiffs
in the Boston lawsuit, said he no longer conducts undercover filmed
investigations of animal treatment on factory farms because he is concerned
about possible prosecution.
"One of the ways the Animal Enterprise
Terrorism Act silences free speech is that if one obtains that footage and
then brings that footage to the public about how animals are suffering on
factory farms, it might affect the profits of that farm," Shapiro said. "As
a result, simply bringing that information to the public and trying to
educate individuals is now prosecutable as a terrorist act under the law."
Activists Silenced by Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act File Lawsuit