Media Contact

Veronica Fowler, ACLU of Iowa Communications Director

March 14, 2022

Today the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled unconstitutional Iowa’s second Ag Gag law, also known as Iowa Ag-Gag 2.0, finding that the law criminalizing undercover investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills violates the First Amendment. 

The law, which is similar to the state’s first Ag Gag statute, gags free speech by criminalizing undercover investigations critical of animal production facilities and has a chilling effect on the ability of people to expose animal cruelty, unsafe working conditions, and food safety threats in such facilities.

After other litigation succeeded in striking down Iowa’s first Ag Gag law at the district court level, the state wasted no time in passing Ag Gag 2.0, creating the new crime of “agricultural production facility trespass” — criminalizing the same speech and investigative activities targeted by the first failed law.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji. The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, Justin Marceau and Alan Chen of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and in-house counsel for the plaintiff organizations. 

Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director, said, "This important decision finds that Iowa's Ag Gag 2.0 law violates the First Amendment because it discriminates based on the viewpoint of the speaker. Speakers critical of big agriculture are singled out for punishment, while those who would promote or praise it are protected, and this cannot survive strict scrutiny. An especially grievous harm to our democracy occurs when the government uses the power of the criminal laws to target unpopular speech to protect those with power—which is exactly what this law is about. The Ag Gag 2.0 law aims to silence critics of worker rights abuses, animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, and environmental hazards in agricultural facilities." 

Mindi Callison, executive director of one of the plaintiffs, Bailing out Benji, said, "On behalf of Bailing Out Benji and all of our supporters, we are so excited about today's ruling. We believe that exposing what happens behind the closed doors at Iowa puppy mills and other agricultural facilities is of the utmost importance for consumers as well as the animals. It is our right to make sure that the animals being used in these facilities are living in standards that meet and exceed those that Iowans hold dear." 

Brenda Brink, member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the plaintiffs, said, “We are so grateful that the district court found the law unconstitutional. The intent of Iowa’s Ag Gag law is clear. It is to silence those who would expose unsafe working conditions, environmental pollution, or other potential violations at factory farms and other animal facilities. The state has carved out unfair rules for industrialized agriculture that no other industry has, and that is harmful to workers and the environment because it keeps us from effectively documenting abuses.”

For more background on the Ag Gag 2.0 lawsuit, click here. 

The decision can be found here. 

For a press release from ADLF, written for national media, click here.