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« Brittany and Rambo are set free - Brampton City Officials fail - and even more BSL problems in Ontario | Main | Bureaucrats, people who care, media driving agendas, & a need to end the "death to all pit bulls' thinking »

April 20, 2010



HSUS, CNN and all the others who are more responsible for the hysteria about dogfighting, and the resultant cruelty/BSL/etc, than all the dogfighters put together, would always be exempt from these laws. See, they are "educational" and "news" outlets. The news is always exempt from the depiction of cruelty.

It's the ACTS that should be prosecuted, not the depiction.

The promoters of this law weren't really going after dogfighters or "crush" film producers (there hasn't been a prosecution for "crush" films, which may not actually exist) anyway. They were going after Bob Stevens and others who write books and make movies about dogfighting.

If I want to watch a movie with dogs fighting, or of anything else (other than pornography), I should have that right. And the SC agrees



You only have the "right" to watch a dog fighting video because the government allows you to..and certainly this wouldn't be an unprecedented case where something was ruled by the courts to be so obscene that it was not covered under the 1st Amendment.

If we look at the most recent example of something not protected under the first Amendment it is child pornography (NY v Ferber, 1982).

Basically, the government ruled that they had a compelling interest to prevent sexual exploitation of children, distribution of visual depictions of children engaged in sexual activity was intrisically related to the sexual abuse of children, that such videos had negligible artistic value and that they were "obscene".

Certainly all of these could be applied to videos depicting dog fighting. No?

While I realize in re-reading the case that the overall law itself was very broad and thus rightly struck down, I don't think you can very easily make a case that we NEED to uphold your right to watch dogfighting videos. In many ways I think it is strikingly similar to the child pornography issues.

And of course, the court could rule on the "educational" value of the material for use in news casts, etc. Certainly you don't see a lot of child porn on your nightly news.


no, dogfighting videos are not like pornography. Not even close.
Nazis marching in Skokie is not like pornography.
Tea partiers calling Obama a monkey? Not like pornography.
Jack Kevorkian advocating that he can help people commit suicide? also not like pornography.
How about: films of animals being slaughtered? also not like pornography, but under the law you want, could be banned, much to the consternation of AR activists.

The government gives me the right to free speech? wow.. Here I thought that I was endowed by my Creator with certain unalienable Rights.

Think more carefully about where you want to go with this.


Here's the reality Emily. There are no God-given rights. We live in societies -- and as such, we generally agree one what rights everyone has in our community. You change where you live, you change what "rights" you have given what that society has determine their rights to be based on their own social values. Unless you live on your very own island where you are the lone inhabitant, then that is how we live.

We, in this society, have determined that we feel like dog fighting and other forms of animal cruelty are illegal. We make many things illegal. You have lost your "right" to kill someone, drive too fast, or fight dogs.

The 1st Amendment was put in place to protect our rights to free speech so we could freely make political statements against the government -- something many places in Europe were preventing at the time. And the founders of our country felt that the ability to speak freely was essential to questioning the government and thus, democracy.

Child pornogoraphy was ruled not protected by the 1st Amendment because it was deemed as obscene, and having no value to society.

All of the elements you mention are POLITICAL free speech -- with the exception of the slaughter house example. I would defend on my grave everyone's ability to make whatever political statement they want to make --whether I agree with them or not. Hell, we give many of them their own TV shows. That's fine. That MUST be protected.

The actual act of slaughtering animals for food is not even against the law to DO, so why would we make watching videos of a legal activity illegal? That wouldn't make sense.

The reason why dog fighting is so closely like child pornography is that a) participating in sex with a child or fighting dogs are both felonies in this country, b) both involve victims that cannot be consentingly participating in said video (which separates out adult pornography), and c) neither can have a case rationally made for it being any type of political statement. None.

So yes, I agree that the law that was overturned IS overly broad and included way too much stuff. And I agree that we should fight to the death to protect our rights for expressing political discontent, you will never see me here fighting for people rights to watch videos of dogs mauling other dogs.


I am a big proponent of the first amendment, but any so-called freedom that allows for the enjoyment of pain and cruelty inflicted on animals or people is no freedom.

Leaving aside the point that pornography is very much an individual and cultural issue, I find it ironic that there are people who are afraid of sex but don't mind inflicting (or allowing) pain to be inflicted on a less powerful animals or people. I see similarities between what I think some people believe is pornographic and cowards who "pit" two dogs against each other. I am not convinced that people who watch such video don't get some vicarious sexual pleasure out of it. And in case one doubts the existence of "crush" videos, here's a fashionably dressed woman using her high-heels to grind a kitten into the concrete that was circulating on the internet a couple years ago which enouraged more than one kock-off (WARNING - GRAPHIC) :

Part of the problem with dog-fighting is that under-educated people who get their learning from the television seem to be under the impression that animals often fight to the death just because of who they are. It's all the rage on Animal Planet. But in reality, without an abusive human beating, starving, or otherwise manipulating a dog's behavior or environment, most fights are over territory or food, and are relatively short. Rank is established, and life goes on. Filmed dogfights are staged events and, much like rape of a young boy or girl it is abusive and violent behavior and has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. Would this mean that it would be ok to distribute rape scenes which are, by any legal definition, not pornography? One can read transcripts of testimony and stories of those who fight dogs - these bear similarities to the satisfaction described by a rapist. Not sexual, but satisfying an urge for a violent overpowering of a weaker being.

One should also remember that we were subjects of the King and the Declaration of Independence preceeded our Bill of Rights, establishing that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". Even so, the only way we got those was by the death of people who gave up their lives to fight for that declaration. Without those protections the Bill of Rights is a meaningless document, since people who belong to the King (or another government) can't have rights independant of what the King (or the government) chooses to grant. Interestingly, as some of us have evolved we have expanded on that definition of "men", which really meant "white men", to include men and women of all races, and have moved toward a more humane society in which cruelty to animals is abhorrent to most people. Maybe one day we could all agree that a right to life and freedom from cruelty should apply to animals, at least enough so that it could trump one's thoughtless (sexual?) "viewing pleasure" of a violent, abusive, and sociopathic behavior. I doubt it, but perhaps.


"If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch."

That's Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall delivering the opinion of the court in Stanley v. Georgia [ ].

To paraphrase Justice Anthony Kennedy in another court decision, either you truly support freedom of speech, or you support a government that seeks to control thought via censorship, book- and video-banning and other horrors.

"Obviously, a rigid, blinkered, absolutist world view is the easiest to keep hold of," said Salman Rushdie in a speech back in 1991 [ ]. But in a free country, neither the mullahs nor the dog lovers have any business telling me, sitting alone in my own house, what books I can read or what films I can watch. The First Amendment trumps absolutist world views.

In the Stevens case, the judges were not, in fact, trying to decide whether dogfighting videos should be a protected form of expression. They were considering whether the federal statute in question was too broad. If you have an Ernest Hemingway book that contains descriptions of bullfights, could you be arrested under this statute? If you possess a deer-hunting video in Washington, D.C., where hunting is illegal, could you wind up in prison? As a matter of fact: yes. So the statute was ruled unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts: "We read [the federal law] to create a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth." And that is why this crappy law was in violation of the First Amendment.

Bad Rap's legal eagle Christine Allen explains [ and ] that hating animal abuse doesn't change the fact that the statute under consideration in this case was a ginormous piece of legislative suckage.

Want to criminalize dogfighting videos? Then tell your legislators to write, in Christine's words, "a better, more narrowly tailored law."



Again, I get that the Supreme Court made absolutely the right decision in this case. It was, as H. Houlihan said, a slam dunk.

But if a law was was created strictly to criminalize dogfighting videos, would that be something you supported? From your selection of quotes, I'm unsure. I don't know that I agree with Marshall's statement if it meant that someone, or something, else was signifanctly injured or killed expressly for your enjoyment.


There is only ONE class of videos that is exempted from the First Amendment: child pornography. The Court ruled, very rightly, that animal cruelty does not reach that level of heinousness. To rule otherwise would be more than a slippery slope. If animal cruelty videos are criminalized, why not videos of murder? or other acts of cruelty against humans? If videos are criminalized, why not photographs? Every history book would be criminalized in that case.

The Court also ruled, as Luisa notes, that the law was overly broad.

An 8-0 decision is a slamdunk. There really is no doubt.


EmilyS: It was a 8-1 decision, for the record, with the acknowledgment that the law was too broad and needed more tailored legislation. History books are educational, a video of a kitten being crushed by a high heel is not. The "slippery slope" is a good argument to avoid doing the right thing because a group of people are too lazy and don't care enough to try to figure out how to best improve quality of life.


"Here's the reality Emily. There are no God-given rights. We live in societies -- and as such, we generally agree one what rights everyone has in our community."

Brent: As an interpreter of the meaning and value of the American experiment, you are an outstanding animal welfare advocate.

The Founders understood that rights to free speech, to free assembly, to the enjoyment of a free press, to the pursuit of happiness (not happiness itself), to the right to arm oneself for personal and the common defense, and so on, do not originate from the whim of the collective. These rights are inalienable, i.e., they are indistinguishable and inseparable from the existence of each individual human (and, in my opinion, and as appropriate, every other sentient animal) and so cannot be voted away by 50.1% of the electorate. That is the very point of America, and of the Constitution and Bill of Rights that formed its foundation.

Does the nation often waver from this path and these ideals? Of course, as has never been more clear today than since slavery was enabled and tolerated. Does that invalidate the principals that make America unique in human history? Of course not.

As for crush videos, they are vile and reprehensible, and they are not free speech, in my opinion. But the law that banned them was even more vile because of its vagueness and disregard for the inalienable right it attempted to constrain. It was wiped away, with the support of every liberal justice, for exactly that reason. It can, and likely will, be replaced with narrow, reasoned legislation that respects freedom of expression.

Even of (especially of) repellant ideas expressed by (especially by) those we find repugnant.

Eden Springs

"I'm all for free speech, but I had really hoped the Courts would rule that dog fighting, and supreme acts of animal cruelty would fall under the same types of "exceptions" to free speech as child pornography."

This is a complete misunderstanding of what the Court actually ruled on, and misses why this ruling was so important for all Americans.

The court did NOT APPROVE of animal cruelty or dog fighting. To begin with, Mr. Stevens was selling videos of fights that either took place in foreign countries where dog fighting was not illegal, or of old (1950-1960's) vintage US dog fights, so the animal cruelty/fighting issue didn't really exist.

What the Court did was DISAPPROVE of the US Government stretching the definition of any law to force it to apply to a situation where no law currently does apply.

The stunning thing is that the Justices ruled 8 to 1--an almost unheard of majority on an issue, and even more astonishing given the grisly subject of this suit.

What the Court decided was this: the Government cannot pervert the Constitution to prosecute private citizens whose behavior, (although unsavory), is not illegal.

Had the Court ruled the other way, the publisher of every hunting, fishing and outdoor magazine/book/video would have been wide open for prosecution, and who knows what other issues would have arisen.

Again, while you and I might find what Mr. Stevens did distasteful, it is not currently illegal and he should not have been prosecuted in the first place. Had a law been passed to specifically make the selling/distribution of such material illegal, THEN he could be prosecuted, but what has kept this country great for over two centuries is that we don't jail people first, then write laws to make what they did illegal.

Everybody should be dancing in the street with joy over this decision because it protects ALL AMERICANS from being 'bootstrapped' into jail by the Government, and it encourages the passage of an appropriate law regarding Mr. Steven's videos in the future.

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” --Noam Chomsky, 1992


I'm torn on this issue. Obviously I do not agree that it's right to be selling dog fighting videos. But on the other hand, video footage of animal cruelty in slaughterhouses really opened my eyes to some of the suffering of animals. I imagine that dog fighting videos would have the same effect on some people. Of course, we shouldn't need to see a video of something in order to know it's wrong, but that's often what it takes to get someone to change their mind and make a difference. Actually seeing something is more memorable than just hearing about something.


Criminalizing dog fighting photos or videos wouldn't do much to address dog fighting itself. In fact, I feel that adding that kind of law (whether it was state, federal, or local), would distract from the crime of the act itself while simultaneously stifling efforts of animal advocates who are trying to educate the public using the same footage.

It's hard to legislate intent; and flat out impossible to legislate for common decency.

I also don't think there's enough in common between child pornography and dog fighting. Pornography has precedence of being heavily legislated already, and 'child pornography' (with some notable gray area) can be more clearly defined than "animal cruelty" or "animal exploitation". Child pornography has also (unlike dog fighting) never been legal in the past, so there's no "historical footage" analog.


Hmm, let me correct that.

Obviously, by the current legal definition, certain types of child pornography (where "child" to us now <18 years old) were legal (or at least, not yet explicitly illegal) in the past - but not, I feel, in the same way that dog fighting was.


In america we have to take the good with the bad sometimes.

Case in Point the Muslims who live in New York who are calling for the deaths of the South Park Creators.

Another thing which people are missing out on is if ther are dog fighting videos out there and people are encourged to make these types of videos, it will make it easier to arrest people who participate in Dog Fighting.

Regardless if Videos are made illegal or not. Dog fighing is still going on. I would love to see every dog figt filmed so that when these thugs get caught there is real evidence that they were commiting a crime.

Increasing the fines and jail times for being around a dog fight could not hurt either.


For the record, the Muslims in New York calling for the deaths of the South Park Creators isn't protected under the Constitution either. They can be mad about it all they want...but it is illegal to intimidate and threaten to kill someone for exercising their right to free speech.

Tim F.

Not that I like dog fighting, but if videos of dogfighting were banned, then shouldn't various wildlife documentaries also be banned? Some of them are obviously staged, such as one on giant centipedes I recently saw on Youtube by National Geographic. I've also read that some scenarios in the Wild America series were staged as well, using captive bred animals, tethering prey animals in place, etc.


Well to be honest they did not come right out and call for their deaths...

Kind of like...if someone who is the creator of a popular show that rhymes with Touth Tark and is showing pictures of Muhamad then Islamic law says they should be put to death.


Tim, I wouldn't think that wildlife documentaries would fall under the same category. I don't think it would be hypocritical at all to want to have provisions that prevent showing a domesticated species that has been led to fight vs non-domesticated species just living life.

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