Animal rights activists are up in arms about a recent eight to one decision made by the Supreme Court that videos of pit-bull dog fights where animals are injured and killed is protected speech. What issues might that raise?
For some people free speech is absolute. On the Internet there are videos of fathers sexually abusing their daughters and posting them to YouTube, individuals having sexual relations in unusual positions and showing pictures of this publicly and masochism in all its wonders portrayed freely in many places. These are often found outside the law and protected speech, although this is sometimes decided on a case-by-case basis.
Animal cruelty is of concern to organizations such as PETA and the Humane Society, who have gone on record as insisting that animal rights be respected.
In this recent Supreme Court case decided April 20 the court overturned a sentence against Robert Stevens where he had been given 37 months for selling videos of violent pit-bull fights.
In making this decision, the Supreme Court justices decided that Stevens' particular depictions of cruelty did not fall within the categories of "obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement (and) speech integral to criminal conduct."
In the decision the judges said, "While the prohibition of animal cruelty has a long history in American law, there is no evidence of a similar tradition prohibiting depictions of such cruelty."
In the case of the verdict on U.S. v. Stephens April 20 the Supreme Court threw out Robert Stevens 2005 conviction and therefore permanently struck down the "Crush Act." This act was developed in 1999 under U.S. Code Section 48 banning the creation, sale and possession of materials showing animal cruelty "in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed. Stevens had been the first person convicted under this act.
The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA , had argued that depicting animal cruelty is not free speech. They declare the recent Court decision will allow the perpetuation of video sales showing cruelty to animals.
In an interview with Theresa Primm, owner of Sam's Book Barn in Natchitoches, Louisiana this recent decision by the Supreme Court was used as the backdrop for questions about book and video sales of certain types of materials, including videos showing cruelty to animals. Her bookstore is on one of the main highways in Natchitoches where she sells mostly gently used and rare books.
"Are you aware of the recent Supreme Court decision protecting the rights of people to sell videos showing animal cruelty?" she was asked.
"I am," she said, "I saw that on the news."
"Would you sell them in your shop?"
Primm's answer was immediate and firm. "I sell books and don't censor and haven't been in that situation. But I am a lover of animals and a member of PETA. I wouldn't want to be associated with selling videos or books showing animal cruelty. Animals need human protection. I cannot abide torturing them. It is our responsibility as people to care for animals. I believe strongly in caring for innocent creatures and was not happy with the decision of the Supreme Court when I heard about it."