Federal Judge Strikes Down Iowa's Shameful 'Ag-Gag' Rule

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On Wednesday, a federal judge knocked down Iowa’s notorious ag-gag law as unconstitutional, according to Courthouse News Service. The law, put in place in 2012 by the Iowa legislature with the support of the agriculture industry, prevents animal rights activists and undercover journalists from reporting on animal abuse at livestock farms. Finally, U.S. District Judge James Gritzner in Des Moinse has decided the law violates the First Amendment.

“The law has the effect of criminalizing undercover investigations of certain agricultural facilities,” Gritzner wrote in his decision.

In 2017, the law was challenged by animal rights groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Food Safety, and two Iowa groups represented by the ACLU.


“Today’s decision is an important victory for free speech in Iowa, because it holds that Iowa’s ag-gag law on its face is a violation of the First Amendment,” Bettis Austen, the legal director of Iowa’s ACLU said in a statement.

“Ag gag clearly is a violation of Iowans’ First Amendment rights to free speech,” she added. “It has effectively silenced advocates and ensured that animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions go unreported for years. We are so pleased that with the court’s order today and that the law has finally been held to be unconstitutional.”

In the past, Iowa has tried to say that the law doesn’t criminalize speech but “false statements” made by undercover activists or journalists seeking to expose the agriculture industry’s practices.

Gritzner disagreed, according to Courthouse News Service:

The judge [said] one could not violate the statute without engaging in speech, and even false statements are protected by the First Amendment if they do not cause a “legally cognizable harm” or provide “material gain” to the speaker. False statements criminalized by Iowa’s statute do neither, he wrote.


Unsurprisingly, the investigations by activists and journalists covered by the law have exposed truly horrific treatment of animals by the industry.

“For example, in 2011, an undercover investigation at Iowa Select Farms produced reports of workers hurling small piglets onto a concrete floor,” Gritzner wrote in his decision. “Another investigation at Iowa’s Sparboe Farms, documented reported mistreatment of hens and chicks. And yet another, conducted by PETA, exposed workers at a Hormel Foods supplier in Iowa ‘beating pigs with metal rods,’ ‘sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces, and a supervisor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move while telling the investigator, ‘You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.’”


There are similar laws currently in place in many other U.S. states, including Alabama, North Dakota, and Missouri. Other challenges are in process across the country, like in Kansas, which has the oldest ag-gag law in the U.S.