Stop the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act!
On Monday, November 13, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was passed by the House of Representatives on a voice vote. The act was added to the House Suspension Calendar on Friday night, joining it to multiple uncontroversial bills to receive an up-or-down vote with no debate.
AETA passed on a voice vote, with some powerful dissenting voices, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who asserted that this bill was intended to have a chilling effect on free speech.
Animal industry groups, corporations and the politicians that represent them pushed hard for the passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), ostensibly to crack down on violent animal and environmental rights extremists. But in fact, this bill may lead to a crackdown on legal, constitutionally-protected political expression. The sweeping language of this bill covers any activity that "interferes" with the operation of an "animal enterprise" resulting in a loss of profits.
We believe that the AETA deals a severe blow both to First Amendment protections of free speech and assembly and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee that all people be treated equally under the law. AETA would punish some activities more harshly than others solely on the basis of the beliefs that motivate them. The vague definition of the crime may dissuade many lawful and peaceful activists from expressing their views.
But the National Lawyers Guild will challenge efforts under AETA to stifle legitimate dissent. Our Mass Defense Project has protected the right to political expression for four decades, providing legal observers for many thousands of demonstrations, defending activists targeted by law enforcement, and filing proactive suits to stop government efforts to stifle legitimate protest.
We will look for opportunities to challenge this law in court, and hopefully to strike it down. Our forthcoming publication, Punishing Dissent, will document a range of ways in which government infringements of First Amendment rights have been on the rise, including a chapter that documents an ongoing crackdown on environmental activism
Thank you for supporting our campaign to hold the line in Congress; it is a sad day for the First Amendment, but perhaps victory has only been delayed.