Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ALA Supports Animal Cruelty Depictions; What Does This Have to Do With Libraries

The American Library Association [ALA] advocates First Amendment protections for animal cruelty depictions (not animal cruelty). Can anyone tell me what this has to do with libraries? What do pictures of animal cruelty have to do with reading?

What the ALA is doing may be a worthy goal for First Amendment jurisprudence generally, but will someone tell me why the American Library Association is defending rights regarding the sale of animal cruelty pictures? Wouldn't the ACLU be better suited for such a defense?

I didn't rejoin the ALA last time because the dues were too high. Now I know why the dues are too high. Now I know why the ALA no longer pays for scooters for disabled attendees at its own conferences. I am happy my dues are not supporting the defense by librarians of animal cruelty depictions. Does freedom for animal cruelty sales takes precedence over disabled librarians?

You've got to read this to see truth is stranger than fiction. It takes up the highest percentage of space on the report—must be important for librarians:

"Report to Council; 2009 Annual Conference — Chicago, Illinois,"
by Judith Platt,
Freedom to Read Foundation (ALA),
undated (circa. 16 July 2009), pp.3-4.
(will update URL when exact one is available then remove this comment)


An important part of the Foundation’s mission is to prevent the erosion of fundamental First Amendment rights and freedoms. In a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court in its 2009/2010 term, the government is arguing that a whole category of speech can be denied First Amendment protection based on the radical proposition that the “value” of the speech should be weighed against a compelling government interest. Such a balancing test would allow the abridgment of First Amendment rights with respect to broad categories of speech found to have “low value” and could easily encompass many forms of expression, including real or virtual depictions of violence against persons or property. The case, U.S. v. Stevens, is being characterized as the most important First Amendment litigation since the CDA challenge.

At issue is a federal statute that prohibits the creation, sale or possession of “a depiction of animal cruelty” with “the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain,” if the act depicted is illegal where the depiction is created, sold or possessed. The law provides an exception for depictions having “serious” value. It should be noted that the underlying acts of animal cruelty ostensibly targeted by the statute are already illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Robert J. Stevens, a dog-trainer, pit bull aficionado and resident of Virginia was indicted under the statute by a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania, and was convicted and sentenced to 37 months in prison for selling videos containing footage of pits bulls fighting and attacking other animals. Stevens did not create the footage; some of it was old footage; other footage came from Japan where dog fighting is legal. The videos are sold online through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The district court refused to dismiss his indictment on First Amendment grounds, finding it justified by a compelling government interest.

Stevens’ conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held the statute unconstitutional. The appellate court, in a 10–3 en banc ruling, rejected the government’s argument that depictions of animal cruelty should be excluded from First Amendment protection, as are depictions of obscenity and child pornography, and held there to be no compelling government interest in banning speech to compensate for under-enforcement of existing animal cruelty laws. It further ruled that the “serious value” exception did not render the law constitutional.

The government appealed the Third Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court, not only asking the Court to carve out an exception to the First Amendment—something it has not done since 1982 in New York v. Ferber—but also asking the Court to restrict the ability to bring facial challenges for overbreadth, severely limiting the ability to challenge a statute because of its “chilling effect” on protected speech.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari. FTRF is filing an amicus curiae brief that will ask the Court to uphold the Third Circuit ruling. The brief will argue that there is no basis for removing depictions of harm to animals as a class of speech from First Amendment protection, and that strict scrutiny must be applied to the law, as was done by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Presently, the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression will be joining FTRF on the amicus curiae brief.



  1. You seem to be implying that librarians should only be concerned about printed material. Or do you think that librarians shouldn't be concerned about cases involving material outside of a library collection?

    Honestly, I'm very confused by your concern here. What does this have to do with libraries? It's a case that has the possibility of limiting free expression and free inquiry. What doesn't this have to do with libraries?

  2. I agree that it's BS for the ALA not to pay for scooters this year, but come on. It has nothing to do with library "safety" and it hardly makes the ALA evil.

  3. I think FRTF is wrong. But, Dan, you do know what an amicus brief is right? They you'd also know that it has as might to do with what libraries have in their collections as Whole Foods recipes have to do with what I make in my house.

    Windmills 1, Dan 0


  4. This just in:

    "FTRF Urges Supreme Court to Reject Broad Speech Ban," by ALA Press Release, American Library Association, 30 July 2009.


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