North Carolina is Taking Ag-Gag Bills to a Whole New Extreme

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

You may feel passionately about animal rights, or you may not. But when it comes to ‘ag-gag’ bills, there’s a deeper issue at hand. ‘Ag-gag’ bills, short for “agricultural gag,” are meant to protect farmers and agricultural operations from employees or visitors attempting to expose what they deem to be unsafe, unfair, or cruel practices. This can include videos taken on private property of animals being abused, or even employees being treated unfairly. In effect, these laws are meant to shield agricultural companies from lawsuits resulting from the practices at their respective business locations.

Basically, they’re anti-whistleblower laws.

As of right now, there are seven states that have these ag-gag laws on the books, with many others having had defeated proposed legislation. But the industry’s minions are hard at work crafting new bills, or reworking old ones, in an attempt to get more states on board. Currently, North Carolina is in the midst of a heated debate over whether or not to pass an ag-gag law — but in this particular instance, North Carolina’s legislation goes above and beyond what we’ve seen so far.

Not only are the traditional elements included in this bill, but the anti-whistleblower law could also be applied to a myriad of other businesses, including restaurants, daycare, and even nursing homes.

That means that if a member of the nursing home is treating Nana disrespectfully, or even in a cruel manner, and she records it on a smartphone, she could be the one who winds up in trouble, not the staff member acting out of line. Naturally, protesters have come out in droves to try and convince North Carolina governor Pat McCrory to veto the law, which the governor’s office says it is still reviewing.

“This bill is designed to shield animal abusers from public scrutiny and it punishes people who expose cruelty,” Mikael Nielsen of animal-rights group Mercy For Animals told Raleigh-based ABC affiliate WTVD. “It’s dangerous and un-American.”

Nielsen’s last comment is what truly strikes at the heart of the matter. Though proponents of these ag-gag bills and similar legislation contend that they are important to protecting business owners, they are, at their core, anti-American. A law designed to shut someone up, or to instill in an individual fear of speaking up when they see something wrong, seems like a blatant targeting of free speech — which would make North Carolina’s legislation unconstitutional.

These bills are clearly crafted with one thing in mind: to silence dissenters, while veiling their intention behind a smoke screen of business protection efforts. Even governors of other conservative states have expressed worries regarding the overreach and apparent violation of First Amendment rights that ag-gag laws cement into law, with Tennessee governor calling the legislation “constitutionally suspect.”

In North Carolina’s case, extending this type of unconstitutional business protection to daycares or nursing homes is likely to ignite even more backlash, especially considering that actual human beings could be subject to abuse, not just cows, pigs, or chickens.

“Essentially, this would silence all whistle blowers in every type of business in North Carolina, and it really puts millions of living creatures from humans to animals in harm’s way,” Matt Dominguez, public policy director for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, told Public News Service.

“This ag gag bill has sweeping and broad impacts on the safety of really every resident in North Carolina,” he added. “If you have a parent in a nursing home or a child in day care, they are going to be put in harm’s way by this bill.”

While ag-gag bills on their own are seen as reprehensible by a good deal of Americans, the unprecedented expansion of business protections seen in North Carolina’s version, at the expense of free speech rights, is downright troublesome. What it really boils down to is a step in the wrong direction for accountability and transparency, as well as criminalizing constitutional rights. It’s understandable that businesses wouldn’t want to have their dirty laundry aired for the whole world to see, but that’s an issue with their business practices — not those who speak up against it.

This won’t be the last ag-gag bill we see brought up in state legislatures. And if they keep growing in scope and severity without legal balance, we’re in for a very big problem.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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