Kansas State Fair’s Restrictions on PETA are Upheld


Adonia David

It is state and county fair season.  Speaking as a born and bred Midwesterner, I can say that for many of us, there is a bit of magic associated with them. Fairs are hot summer days and evenings, cotton candy, roasted corn, and the sound of cicadas floating high above the tumult.  Fairs are ferris wheels and other scary looking rides set up by carnies overnight that look as though they may tumble to the ground any moment.  And fairs are animals.  Animals – the glory of a state fair: cows and calves and bunnies; goats and pigs; chickens of all shapes and sizes and plumage.   The animals are beautiful.  Many are gentle, hand-raised by children in 4H, and many of them are destined for slaughter.   Just what this death involves seems to be generally ignored by fair-goers.  It disturbs the magic.

This year, PETA decided to try to educate visitors to the Kansas State Fair (September 7-16, 2012) as to precisely what slaughter can entail for farm animals by setting up its own booth at the fair and showing “Glass Walls,” a documentary on slaughterhouse abuses narrated by Paul McCartney.  The video is graphic, brutal, and depicts the type of animal suffering that most people would prefer to pretend does not exist.   The Kansas Fair Board announced that while PETA could show the video, it must shield it so that only those who specifically choose to watch will see it.  PETA, supported by the ACLU, sued claiming that this requirement essentially amounted to a content based restriction on its free speech rights.

On September 4, Judge J. Thomas Martin (District of Kansas) refused PETA’s request for a restraining order blocking the fair’s ability to impose such a restriction, but did not dismiss the suit itself.  The judge seemed to base his decision on a finding that the fair was a limited public forum rather than a public forum where anyone can speak and that the intrusion on PETA’s free speech rights was minimal.  However, Judge Martin also “invited” PETA to appeal his decision to the 10th Circuit and seemed “uncomfortable” the ruling, mentioning that he, himself, would not mind allowing his own children to see the video – see here for the full article.

While pointing out that the fair actually describes itself as a “public forum of limited duration,”  PETA is unsure whether it will pursue either the appeal or the suit itself.  It might be hard to win an appeal should the 10th Circuit agree that, despite what the fair says in its promotional materials, it is a limited public forum.  Although commentators and courts interpret limited public forums as still prohibiting viewpoint based restrictions on speech (see here and here for examples), as Judge Marten wrote, there is no evidence to show that the fair allowed “graphic representations of animal slaughter from a “how-to” standpoint. “   Without such evidence, it would be hard to argue that the restrictions were based on PETA’s views against slaughterhouses.

PETA has already showed its video at both the Iowa and Colorado state fairs.  In Iowa it was asked to delete a profanity and in Colorado it was allowed to show it without restrictions.   Unfortunately, Kansas chose to keep the blinders on and to allow its fair goers to keep their eyes closed to the truth a little longer.

4 Responses

  1. Show the film.

    I’m all for free speech/expression, and not sugar-coating things.

  2. Hi Adonia,

    If PeTA doesn’t want to pursue an appeal, maybe it could show the film directly outside the Fair (?)

  3. I was always disappointed by the 18th-century view of, and handling of, animals at my local fairs. (greased pig chases, live rabbits given away as game prizes, etc.) I no longer attend them.

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