In Utah, farmers and ranchers have been calling for enhanced legal protection against animal rights activists, some of whom have taken to vandalizing private property and harassing farmers' families and clients. The state legislature responded this spring with a law restricting "commercial terrorism." The new statute is not only unnecessary -- vandalism and harassment are, after all, already illegal -- but also threatens even the most peaceful protests.
The law, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Adair (R-Roy), has two parts. First, it enhances the penalty for harassment or vandalism of an "animal enterprise," thus adding yet another group to the long list of protected classes in the American legal system. The second proviso is bizarrely vague, and extends to all businesses, not just fur shops, farms, and the like. It restricts protesters from emitting any "light rays or sounds waves" that enter a business.
"Individuals like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and even Jesus would be considered terrorists under this bill," notes David Berg, the political coordinator for the Utah Animal Rights Coalition. That group, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the state on the grounds that the law fetters free speech.
The new rule has already had an unwelcome impact. On April 18, Berg and other UARC members were picketing and passing out leaflets near the entrance of the Delta Center, where the Utah Jazz play basketball. They were approached by a police officer carrying a copy of HB-322, who warned them that the bill limited such protest. The officer left them alone when they reminded him that the law wouldn't go into effect until May 1.