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Animal cruelty and free speech clash at High Court:.......

Animal cruelty and free speech clash at High Court: Will it impact your campus?

August 4, 2009 by Taylor Hannigan
Posted in: From the Courts, Special Report
Do depictions of animal cruelty ever have a place on college campuses? The U.S. Supreme Court should soon provide some new guidance.
The case involves a man who was prosecuted — and convicted — for selling dog-fighting videos.
But his conviction was tossed when a federal appeals court said his right to free speech was illegally restricted.
Now the Supreme Court will review the decision.
The College Art Association, which counts university art and art history departments among its members, has signed on to a brief urging the Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling. It says that if left standing, the law could hurt the ability of art history professors to teach about ethical issues in art.
The federal law (18 U.S.C. 48) generally bans the creation, sale or possession of depictions of animal cruelty for commercial gain – unless the depiction has “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.”
The Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case in early October.
Cite: United States v. Stevens
How should the Court decide the case? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

25 Responses to “Animal cruelty and free speech clash at High Court: Will it impact your campus?”

  1. Mary Hoffman Says:
    The man sold animal cruelty videos? If you allow this for artistic purposes, he is still making a profit off the abuse of animals. Perhaps if people could not profit from this horrible act and be prosecuted for doing so it may help reduce it.
  2. D Cohen Says:
    I think the federal appeals court decision should be overturned. I don’t think the right of free speech should extend to depictions of illegal animal cruelty packaged and presented for the purpose of entertainment rather than in the context of a documentary for example, about animal cruelty.
    I consider dog fighting videos to be in the same category as snuff-films.
  3. Mary Shelton Says:
    Free speech should not be a vehicle for the sale or distribution of violent video/dvds that provide inhumane and graphic animal cruelty. To overturn this type of conviction open the doors to more of the same as well as similar types of reality based violence offered to the public for entertainment purposes. This includes both innocent animals as well as people.
    When are the courts going to realize that the Constitutional right of free speech is being manipulated and twisted by certain people so they can avoid being touched by the law. This is shameful for a country that praises itself for being so advanced. Who are the smarter people here?
  4. B Schiffler Says:
    Why is this even an issue? Cruelty is cruelty. To profit from deliberately inflicting suffering of another being is immoral.
  5. Ramon Says:
    Why wouldn’t depictions of animal cruelty have a place on institutions of research and higher learning? Students protest on a regular basis with posters of children maimed by war, later-abortion fetuses, and the effects of drunk driving.
    They say he was selling dog-fighting videos, but I’m going to read the case myself before making judgement. He could just as easily been selling an anti-dog-fighting documentary that included dog-fighting footage. This article has almost no information whatsoever.
  6. Frank Tuttle Says:
    The producers and purveyors of dog fighting videos should be featured in their own videos, as snacks.
  7. Cynthia Pirkle Says:
    The federal law (18 U.S.C. 48) generally bans the creation, sale or possession of depictions of animal cruelty for commercial gain – unless the depiction has “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.”
    I cannot, for the life of me, see how animal cruelty would be tolerated regardless. And, please tell me how selling dog fighting videos could be considered ARTISTIC?! If that is considered “art” than we are in serious trouble!!!!!!!
  8. Justin Says:
    I’m not trying to argue the cruelty of this practice. Please don’t think I’m arguing the entertainment value of dog fighting. That being said, I am going to argue a “Devil’s Advocate” approach. Does this mean that a legislative body can enact a law against pornography? Take aside the idea of what is being shown in these videos. Dogs are guaranteed no rights in the Constitution. So, does someone’s free speech entitle them on strictly a fundamental level distribute media which depicts what they feel like? And since animals are not guaranteed rights in the Constitution, does this individual’s right take precedent?
    We could make a law which prohibits anything criminal from being aired. However, this would not allow us to show the 9/11 tragedy, a heist, or drug use on television. What if this individual showed the exact same footage for a film expressively against animal cruelty?
    These are important questions I believe need to be answered before we can establish a law like this.
  9. RUSSO Says:
    Thedy should sell the videos how those f*ing dogs kill children and elderly, I hope one day they kill an “animal right activist”, that would one video to sell!
  10. Eric F. Says:
    “…a federal appeals court said his right to free speech was illegally restricted.”
    What’s next?
    Child porn?
    Wonder if the federal appeals court would let me exercise my “free speech” in that realm?
    “…if left standing, the law could hurt the ability of art history professors to teach about ethical issues in art.”
    Come on!
    How is it that the mental midgets on the College Art Association do not understand the difference in the federal law when it applies to them?
    I thought those folks were suppose to be the sharpest minds.
  11. Kev Says:
    This is a hard and slippery slope. While I think that dog fighting is cruel and disgusting and that no one should be able to profit from videos, photos etc. it becomes a very fine line that moves back and forth. What’s next on the free-speech chopping block? When it going to be “so offensive” that your religious or political beliefs are no longer free speech? It’s already extremely easy to be labeled a racist, bigot or homophobe, when are those “offenses” going to become criminal? We do not have the right to be free from being offended in this country (not yet anyway….) If you are insulted consider the source. Does it apply? If not then shake it off and move on.
    We’re becoming a nation of wimps.
  12. Russ Says:
    Reading, it appears that this person was making an amateur educational video regarding the proper training of pit bulls. This person was a pit bull enthusiast, maintained a pit bull web site, and was promoting the breed for its virtues, not as reckless killing machines. The cruel video segments were shown for historical purposes and how NOT to train a dog for hunting purposes.
    The reason he was convicted was because his video was not seen by the courts as providing “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.” Having not seen the video, nor evidence in the case, I cannot say whether it contained any of those values, but it does seem that that was the intent. It seems the courts decided his “training” video did not need footage of animal cruelty and sent him to prison for it.
    Repealing this law could open up doors to worse crimes, even child pornography, I would think. Although, given Justin’s comment above regarding no constitutional rights for dogs, there may not be an issue. Not that someone won’t attempt it in the future, though.
    If his intent truly was an educational video, then I hope justice is done via the appeals courts, not by repealing laws that attempt to protect defenseless animals. The next question that comes to mind is if he had the rights to re-sell the footage he put in his video, he may owe someone some money. :)
  13. Audrey Says:
    Oh, please. There are and will always be limits on free speech in a civil society. Libel, certain kinds of hate speech, child pornography, fraud, “snuff” films. Surely art faculty are not so utterly uncreative themselves that they can’t find ways to teach “art ethics” without using recent films of graphic cruelty. I teach Medical Ethics and have not considered that might provide an argument that cruel and unethical research (Tuskegee syphilis study, 1950’s plutonium experiments, etc) should be allowed to continue today, so that I can have adequate subject matter for my classes! Nor do I consider federal law requiring researchers to secure informed consent from volunteers to be a violation of their “free speech rights.” I’m a liberal, proud supporter of the ACLU and First Amendment rights. But this is an obvious distortion and corruption of that.
  14. Marie Says:
    It is difficult to believe that this is even an issue. Where has our logic gone as a country to think that showing films of animals tearing each other apart should be viewed as “free speech”. To profit over these should be illegal and the man – along with the film maker and dog owners who allowed this should be presecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  15. Teresa Says:
    I am going to vote yes to the survey question “Is it ever okay to show a video depicting animal cruelty?” That said the only time it is okay to show a video about animal cruelty is when you are discussing the injustice of animal cruelty. And animals should never be abused just for the sake of making the video. Only archived or confiscated footage of animal fighting should ever be shown. The only new footage of animal cruelty should come from video and pictures obtained while investigating animal cruelty. Yes we must protect free speech, but never at the physical abuse of another living being. We should always speak out against hateful speech, this is called free speech. But we must and should create laws against physically injurious activities, whether it is against human or animal.
  16. Marilyn Says:
    This brings to mind a video called “Shot Dog Film” filmed by artist Tom Otterness back in 1977. In the video, Otterness adopted a dog, fed it, groomed it, then shot it to death. For viewing, this video was continuously looped. I guess he called that art at the time.
    In 2007, when Gary Indiana criticized Otterness for this “sadistic depravity on film,” Otterness apologized. But not until a $150,000 payment was in jeopardy for an Otterness sculpture commissioned for Wichita State University.
    Makes me wonder if Otterness’s video is on a proposed curriculum designed by the College Art Association.
  17. Suzie Says:
    I agree with Ramon. There’s not enough info about the case to offer an opinion. And was the seller making a profit or only covering costs?
  18. amazed Says:
    Why is everyone concerned about dog fighting when we have human fighting for profit everyday. they are deliberately hurting each other for profit and their videos are sold for a profit. People fighting is just as inhumane as any other type of animal and the thing about this is we are suppose to know better but because man is making money we turn the other way. Have you seen the bloody fighting videos or on TV.
  19. amazed Says:
    I agree that dog fighting is cruel but what about Human fighting it is just a cruel it is done deliberately and there is a profit but because man is making Lots of money from it we trun the other way and just see the dogs….
  20. Steve Says:
    I’ll have to support complete freedom in video content here. There are amazingly gory depictions in art (beheadings of John the Baptist, cruelty in Hieronymous Bosch hell scenes, animals being impaled in battle and sacrifice scenes, disgusting decaying corpses in memento mori pictures). And horrible, gruesome scenes in war documentaries, films about animal slaughterhouse exposes, and so forth.
    I don’t think that thoughts and emotions should ever be censored by society. In kiddie porn there’s the objection that making the videos requires that children be molested. However graphic technology now allows “virtual” children to be molested by “virtual” adults, neither of whom are anything more than internet images.
    The best objection to selling animal cruelty videos would be that animals WERE harmed in the making of that video, IF it were done for that purpose, not incidentally, say, to bullfighting, lab experiments, animal shelter euthanasia, and other normal cruelty.
  21. Richard Says:
    This is an emotional issue, and I’m going to try and address it as unemotionally as possible. While I consider myself a staunch advocate of free speech, the law as it stands bans the selling of depictions of cruelty “for commercial gain”, and has riders to except artistic, educational and other purposes. If the objection to the law is that it is too broad as written, I’d have to see the alternative suggested before being able to pass judgment on the need to repeal it. It seems narrow enough to avoid catching anything other than egregious attempts to MANUFACTURE cruelty, rather than to merely document it, and in that interpretation I’d have to oppose repealing it. Let’s see the alternative suggested.
  22. Jefferson Says:
    The issue is whether there is a compelling government interest in prohibiting the sale, manufacture, and possession of “animal cruelty” videos. It’s not enough to simply say because some people think the content is horrible, that no one may therefore see, make, or own that content. Whose human rights are being harmed by these videos? Do the rights of animals (find those in the Constitution) supersede the free speech rights of humans (those are in the Constitution)?
    The intent behind the law was to prohibit “crush videos” where women harmed and killed animals in a sexual context, i.e. for the sexual gratification of viewers. Lawmakers didn’t approve of that form of sexual excitement and enjoyment. Shall we weaken constitutional protections because people differ about what is tasteful or disgusting in sexual arousal or in entertainment?
  23. Keith Says:
    Where do we draw the line on defining depictions of cruelty? Would images that show animal butchering, animal testing, hunting, or fishing be banned as well? I would think if one were a fish it would be rather unpleasant and probably painful to lay suffocating on the floor of a bass boat. Are we suggesting we incarcerate the Bass Masters crew as well?
  24. Desiree Says:
    The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (H.R. 137) was signed into law May 2, 2007. This law establishes felony-level penalties for violations of the federal law on dogfighting, cockfighting, and other animal fighting ventures; and bans interstate and foreign commerse in cockfighting implements.
    Since there are federal penalities for the actual fighting, a taped record of the illegal act is evidence. Would we also think it’s ok for someone to sell child pornography?
    Come on people, since when is cruelty art!
  25. Jefferson Says:
    There’s plenty of cruelty in art, and it’s just as hard to define cruelty in law as it is art. As posters note above, fishing is cruel to animals, as is lab experientation. And what about the TV commercials showing ants and bugs being massacred by the thousands? Popular movies show humans being butchered: real or simulated? Or do we only care aout certain species and certain social circumstances as being “too” cruel.
    I think we all recognize that government agencies, when empowered to constrain our civil liberties, usually overstep their boundaries. Civil servants become zealots eager to demonstrate their prowess and the importance of their agency, by intruding into censorship, persecutions, property seizures, and invasions of home and privacy. Let’s not destroy our freedoms by trying to impose our personal tastes (e.g. favorite animals) on one another.


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