Monday, November 13, 2006

Making Terrorists out of Mole Hills

The U.S. House will soon vote on a bill that would define acts of peaceful protest as terrorism. Already passed by the Senate, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, S. 1926 and H.R. 4239 (AETA) categorizes activists as terrorists if they engage in First Amendment-protected activities like demonstrations, leafleting, undercover investigations and boycotts targeted at any business or institution that uses or sells animals or animal products. Have we lost our right to protest?

If AETA was in place during the 1950s and ‘60s, civil rights activists who engaged in lunch counter sit-ins at restaurants that serve animal products might have faced 10-year prison terms. It also would include any kind of whistleblower looking to flag illegal or questionable practices of the company.

According to the ACLU:
“Lawful and peaceful protests that, for example, urge a consumer boycott of a company that does not use humane procedures, could be the target of this provision because they ‘disrupt’ the company’s business. This overbroad provision might also apply to a whistleblower whose intentions are to stop harmful or illegal activities by the animal enterprise. The bill will effectively chill and deter Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights to advocate for reforms in the treatment of animals.”

The House is expected to vote on this bill soon after returning from recess possibly this week. The electorate’s call for sweeping change in Congress last week gives us new cause to encourage Members to vote down this bill that is a direct hit to our First Amendment rights. Please contact your Representative and the House Judiciary Committee today and ask them to oppose the AETA.

While this bill speaks primarily to animal rights activists and their abilities to challenge animal rights abuses in the corporate sector, it also is a new tactic in how corporate America chooses to deal with active opposition to their policies, or lack there of. AETA can be applied to a breadth of situations and activities that could very well limit the ability of any activist in America to challenge or call to question a corporation's actions around animal rights, human rights and the environment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The way I read the text of the bill, your description and the ACLU description are both way overblown - this bill does not quash the right to protest peacefully. Look at the definition of economic disruption from the bill, which I quote below.

(4) the term `economic disruption'--
means losses and increased costs that individually or collectively exceed $10,000, including losses and increased costs resulting
from threats, acts or vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment or intimidation taken against a person or entity on account of that person's or entity's connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise; and
``(B) does not include any lawful economic disruption that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclo-
sure of information about an animal enterprise;