DES MOINES, Iowa — The American Civil Liberties Union is taking the State of Iowa to court again to challenge a new law they say violates the First Amendment rights of animal rights advocates.
Senate File 519 created a new criminal offense of ‘Agricultural Production Facility Trespass’. That law is violated if a person uses ‘deception’ to gain employment at an agriculture facility for the purposes of causing ‘physical or economical harm or injury’ to the facility. The bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support; it was signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds in March and took effect immediately.
Governor Reynolds and other supporters of the bill say it protects the state’s biggest industry from sabotage. However the ACLU says this bill, like its predecessor that was struck down by a district court this year, violates the First Amendment and illegally silences whistleblowers.
The ACLU announced a lawsuit against the bill it labels ‘Ag Gag 2.0’ on Monday. In a press release the ACLU says the law is governmental overreach.
“An especially grievous harm to our democracy occurs when the government uses the power of the criminal laws to target unpopular speech to protect those with power—which is exactly what this law is about,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen writes, “The Ag Gag 2.0 law aims to silence critics of worker rights abuses, animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, and environmental hazards in agricultural facilities.”
A similar bill was passed into law in 2012 in Iowa. After years of court challenges that bill was struck down in January by a Polk County judge.
The ACLU is joined by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treat of Animals and the Center for Food Safety in the lawsuit.