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A federal judge has ruled that Iowa’s second ‘Ag-gag’ law aimed to criminalise animal rights investigators who enter agricultural facilities is unconstitutional. In the last few years, Iowa’s legislators have passed separate laws intended to discourage animal rights activists to undertake undercover investigations at agricultural facilities. The first was ruled unconstitutional in 2019 by U.S. District Judge James Gritzner. This prompted the state to enact a second law that attempted to address the issues raised by Gritzner and created a trespass charge punishable by up to a year in jail. This second law has now also been ruled unconstitutional, and the state can appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Center for Food Safety, are the non-profit organisations behind this latest legal challenge. 

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose said, “The state of Iowa may not single out individuals for special punishment based on their critical viewpoint of agricultural practices.” Sue also ruled “It is the proper province of the legislature to determine whether specific facilities — such as agricultural facilities, nuclear power plants, military bases, or other sensitive buildings — are entitled to special legal protections. However, the First Amendment does not allow those protections to be based on a violator’s viewpoint.”

Rita Bettis Austen, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the law was created “to silence critics of worker rights abuses, animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, and environmental hazards in agricultural facilities.” Stephen Wells, the Executive Director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said “is incomprehensible that Iowa legislators continue to waste Iowans’ taxpayer dollars to pass and defend unconstitutional laws that suppress free speech simply to protect their own financial interests. We hope this ruling sends a clear message that the Iowa legislature should cease its efforts to pass unconstitutional ag-gag laws.”