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Activists are fighting to speak. Are you willing to listen?

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By Rachel Meeropol, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead counsel on Blum v. Holder, a first amendment challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Today, I am in court in Boston, urging the First Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as a violation of the First Amendment. This law has cast a chill throughout the animal rights community, targeting peaceful picketing, boycotts, and nonviolent civil disobedience as "terrorism." As with similar repression throughout history, the AETA targets an unpopular group of activists and protects politically powerful interests from protest. It is a dangerous, unconstitutional law that will go down as a shameful mark on our history. But I hope we will not have to await the judgment of history.

The AETA is part of a broader crackdown on animal rights and environmental activists, known as the "Green Scare," which also includes highly controversial "ag-gag" legislation: state-level laws that criminalize undercover investigations into animal agriculture and slaughter plants. Dozens of exposés in recent years have revealed the brutality of these facilities, and the industry has pushed back hard, doing everything in its means to stop the video footage from being published. As with the AETA, ag-gag laws seek to silence animal rights activists and keep the public in the dark.

Make no mistake, neither the AETA nor ag-gag laws are aimed at protecting businesses from illegal radical activism--existing law already punishes vandalism, harassment, and fraud. Rather, these laws aim to protect animal industries from radical ideas. Animal rights activists want to fundamentally change the way we view animals: to get us to see animals not as food, textiles, test tubes, or performers, but as individuals with lives worth living.

To the meat, dairy, and egg industries, to product testing labs, animal circuses, and fur and leather retailers, that is the most dangerous thing. More than a broken window here and there or some freed animals now and again, these industries fear public awareness and public conscience. They worry - and rightfully so - that learning about the horrors of animal agriculture, that witnessing the violence inherent to producing so much of our food, clothing, and other products, will cause people to object, to boycott, and to protest. More than "extremists," animal industries fear that "extreme" ideas will become mainstream. Because, if they did, these industries would be finished.

But the principle behind the First Amendment is that listeners - not government, not corporations - should decide for themselves which ideas to accept and which to reject. If the Court of Appeals upholds the Constitution, we may not have to wait for the AETA to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Legal cases are one way to fight the effort to silence these activists.

Another way is to promote their voices and to listen to what they are saying. To open our ears, open our eyes, and open our minds. To do exactly what the industry hopes we won't: to consider that, maybe, these activists have something important to say. And to decide for ourselves whether animals are resources to be used or individuals to share our world with.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights is doing both: we are fighting in court to have the AETA struck down as a violation of the freedom of speech. And we are promoting the voices of our clients, plaintiffs in our AETA case Blum v. Holder, in this short video. Please take a look. Activists are fighting to speak. Are you willing to listen?

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