Dog Fighting, Free Speech, And The Supreme Court

 |  Oct 6th 2009  |   6 Contributions


sparkle1048850_1254193080The new Supreme Court term started on Monday and there is a very interesting case to keep your eye on, United States v. Stevens.

It's about Robert Stevens who was found guilty of violating a statute by selling a commercial video that includes footage of dog fighting.

Here are the details of the case from The Washington Post.

United States v. Stevens

Robert J. Stevens produced videos he says were intended to show owners how to train their pit bulls to ward off predators, such as coyotes, or help in hunting expeditions involving wild boar. As part of his self-styled instructional videos, Stevens included footage -- admittedly gruesome -- of some of these endeavors gone terribly wrong, including one passage that showed a pit bull mauling a hog. The federal government charged Stevens with violating a statute that prohibits the sale or possession of material that depicts a live animal being maimed, tortured, injured or killed. The statute in question was passed during the Clinton administration, presumably to combat the proliferation of videos showing high-heeled women crushing small animals for the prurient enjoyment of viewers. Yet during the past decade, it has been invoked only three times in prosecutions involving those involved in some way with dog fighting.

Stevens was convicted of selling videos of dogs fighting each other and attacking other animals. The law includes a provision stipulating that those who produce "serious" material with a journalistic or educational bent are exempt from prosecution. It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the law passes constitutional muster or whether it violates the First Amendment by prohibiting speech that may be offensive but perfectly legal.

There are supporters of Stevens who do not condone animal cruelty but are concerned about the conviction based on "freedom of speech." The American Humane believes this law is necessary and does not infringe on the true intent of the First Amendment.

This is a case about animal cruelty, plain and simple, said American Humane President and CEO Marie Belew Wheatley. Every state has passed laws to protect animals from cruelty and neglect and has found this issue to be important in protecting communities. Animal cruelty should be a compelling government interest that overrides any attempt to intentionally harm animals under the guise of right to free speech. While many parties may argue the technicalities and interpretations of the law, the real focus should be that it is immoral, it is inhumane and it should be illegal to exploit, torture and kill animals for someones twisted sense of entertainment and someone elses profit.

I am obviously a proponent for 'the right to free speech' but I can't possibly see a legitimate reason, or any redeeming value, to depict dog fighting in the video. Subsection (a) of the law, U.S.C. Part I, Chapter 3, Section 48, states: Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years or both. The exceptions are any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value. The problem with the law is that it's rather subjective, it's up to the interpretation of the reader to determine if any of the above 'exceptions' pertain to Stevens' video.

The final determination will come from the Supreme Court. Hopefully those reviewing the case will all conclude that dog fighting in Stevens' video has no merit and is inhumane, it is used for the sole purpose of financial gain.

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