Free Speech or Free Tyranny?

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to finally determine whether selling videos depicting animal cruelty should be constitutionally-protected speech.

This year, it will hear the case of United States of America v. Robert J. Stevens. The defendant, who sold dogfighting and hog-dog fighting videos, was the first person to be convicted under a 1999 federal law prohibiting the creation, possession and/or sale of videos depicting animal cruelty with the intention of profiting financially therefrom. He was convicted by a U.S. district court in 2005, but a U.S. appeals court vacated the holding as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.  

According to one article, “Stevens argued in his appeal that the federal law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because it criminalized depictions of conduct that was either legal or happened before dogfighting was outlawed, prosecuted people who did not take part in the underlying conduct or could be extended to hunting and fishing violations.” 

According to the Washington Times, “the U.S. government seeks to carve out an exception to free speech in the case of those selling videotapes of pitbull fighting and the fetished crushing of small animals by high-heeled shoes.”

There has been a question for some years now regarding of legality of sales of videos depicting dog fighting, as well as fetish “crush” videos, in which small animals are crushed by high-heeled shoes. The Humane Society of the United States is currently suing online merchant Amazon.com and four other companies because of their sales of dogfighting and cockfighting videos and magazines. Dogfighting is illegal in all U.S. states, and cockfighting is illegal in 48 states.

-Suzanne McMillan