Is it possible that PETA, an organization which has equated the eating of animals to the lynching of black Americans, has something in common with the Tea Party? I wondered when I received an email from a fellow Tea Partier which had originated from the radical animal rights group.
House File (HF) 1369 and Senate File (SF) 1118, which are currently making their way through the Minnesota State Legislature, could subject whistleblowers to criminal prosecution for their efforts to expose animal abuse on factory farms. If passed, these bills would penalize those who report and expose cruelty to animals and would put them at risk of being charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony, sentenced to pay heavy fines, and ordered to serve jail time. This legislation is a desperate attempt by agriculture industry giants to prevent consumers from learning the truth about how animals on factory farms live and die.
As PETA presents it, these bills appear to attack freedom of speech. By saying they “penalize those who report and expose cruelty to animals,” PETA makes it sound like speaking against a factory farm will become a criminal offense. Were this true, the Tea Party would indeed find itself allied with PETA against these bills.
However, as you might imagine, PETA has grossly misrepresented what Minnesota legislators are trying to do. A reading of each bill reveals their true intent. The bills would make it a crime to tamper with farm facilities, to interfere with their lawful business, and to access farms under false pretenses. Tampering includes destroying property or stealing animals. Interference includes recording or distributing unauthorized audio or video. Finally, newly specified categories of fraud would include lying to gain employment on a farm in order to commit acts not authorized by the employer.
Put simply, the bills protect property rights and the freedom of association. They do not criminalize reports of animal abuse. A farmhand who wanted to speak out against his employer would still be free to do so. They would merely be prohibited from capturing unauthorized recordings or sabotaging their employer’s operation.
Giving PETA the benefit of the doubt, an argument could be made that laws against trespass, theft, and fraud already exist, and these bills are somewhat redundant. However, a question then arises which backs PETA into a corner. Why do legislators feel obliged to strengthen those protections for Minnesota farmers? The answer is because organizations like PETA routinely violate property and association rights in pursuit of their “investigations.”
Whether farmers are inflicting undue cruelty upon animals or not, as human beings with individual rights, they are entitled to protect their property and discern their associations. If they are breaking laws, PETA is free to bring that to the attention of law enforcement. If farmhands want to tell the world how horrible their employer is, they are free to do so. In turn, whistleblowers should expect to have their employment terminated. By fighting efforts to protect individual rights, PETA once again elevates their concern for animals above human beings. On that point, they ought never have an ally in the Tea Party.