First Amendment

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Washington State Mulling Its Own Ag-Gag Bill

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 10:31 AM

  • George Prentice
Idaho's neighbor to the west is set to consider a bill that would criminalize unauthorized recordings of agricultural operations, though Republicans at the State Legislature in Olympia, Wash., have said that the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a full vote, the Spokesman-Review reports

The bill, sponsored by Washington State Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), would create the new crime of "interference with agricultural production." Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Alynn), who sits on the House Public Safety Committee, called it a "no-brainer."

But the bill has little support from Democrats in the legislature, who said the criminal activity addressed the bill is already illegal under trespass and vandalism statutes. House Republican leaders told the Spokesman-Review that they haven't polled members on the bill because they worry Democrats, who are in the majority in the House, are unlikely to send the bill to the floor for a full vote. 

In 2014, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed a similar bill into law. The so-called "Ag-Gag Bill" quickly drew legal challenges that are ongoing based on what critics described as its conflicts with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Video: #BlackLivesMatter Inspires Demonstration, Conversation at Boise State

Posted By and on Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Farzan Faramarzi is an intern extraordinaire for Boise Weekly this semester—reporting and videoing news and culture stories throughout the Treasure Valley for the past few months. 

But on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 6, while covering a Boise State University football game at Albertsons Stadium, he took note of a series of one-letter signs being held up by students that read #BLACKLIVESMATTER.

CBS television cameras panned the crowd, but Faramarzi noticed that the network quickly cut away from the demonstration of solidarity. 

"As a journalist, I couldn't forget what I saw," said Faramarzi. "Apparently 'the shirtless guy' got more attention than these students. I wanted to find them and talk to them."

And indeed he did. Here is Faramarzi's in-studio conversation with three Boise State students who were behind the sign, who shared their moments of inspiration in the wake of the killings of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Coeur d'Alene Minister: LGBT Nondiscrimination Ordinance is 'Involuntary Servitude'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 10:05 AM

In an opinion published in this morning's Coeur d'Alene Press, a local minister has equated the city's LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance with slavery.

"Can there be any doubt that this ordinance provides an avenue for coerced labor—involuntary servitude?" wrote Christian Candlelight Christian Fellowship Pastor Paul Van Noy.

According to Van Noy, the city's ordinance, which makes discrimination in housing, public accommodations or employment based on gender identity or sexual orientation a misdemeanor, violates the First, 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits involuntary servitude and slavery, and Van Noy wrote that the ordinance forces business owners to serve people against their personal religious beliefs. 

Coeur d'Alene's nondiscrimination ordinance recently came under fire from religious groups after a local wedding chapel, The Hitching Post, sued the city for violating its First Amendment-protected freedom of religious practice. The city attorney has said, however, that The Wedding Chapel is not covered under the ordinance. 

Though the ordinance explicitly prohibits certain forms of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, Van Noy wrote that it forces business owners to provide goods and services to anyone regardless of whether the business owner supports or doesn't support the aims of the patron or client.

"For example, should a Jewish carpenter in Coeur d’Alene be unwilling to make wooden swastikas for an Aryan Nation group – the carpenter would be in violation. If a local pro-choice printer should be unwilling to produce pro-life materials for a pro-life rally they would be in violation. If a Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic, Atheist, or Humanist et al. were sought out to provide any service, housing, employment, or public accommodation to any group or person with whom they are unsupportive they would be in violation of this ordinance," he wrote.

Van Noy went on to write that he does not believe that LGBT discrimination is a problem in the north Idaho city, and that the nondiscrimination ordinance creates a protected class out of LGBT people in the city. 

"As we knew before the ordinance was passed, it is now evident that the ordinance protects the rights of one people group at the expense of others. I stated in my arguments of May-June 2013 that our city did not need this ordinance because we did not have a problem with discrimination toward the LGBT community," he wrote.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

UPDATE: Forest Service Nixes Proposed Photo, Video Restrictions in Wilderness

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Photos like this one taken on the edge of the Monument Rock Wilderness Area in Eastern Oregon, would have been a problem under the Forest Service's new regulations. - THE OREGONIAN
  • The Oregonian
  • Photos like this one taken on the edge of the Monument Rock Wilderness Area in Eastern Oregon, would have been a problem under the Forest Service's new regulations.


The U.S. Forest Service has done a 180 on its plan to impose restrictions on photography and video in U.S. wilderness, The Oregonian reports

"The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment," said USFS Chief Tom Tidwell in a statement. "To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities."

According to the statement, Tidwell wanted to clarify that the proposed restrictions would not require permits for news gathering or recreational photographs in U.S. wilderness areas, though he didn't explain why spokespeople for the Forest Service told The Oregonian just the opposite Sept. 23.

That's when Acting Wilderness Director Liz Close told the press that the Forest Service would indeed require permits, costing up to $1,000, to report from wilderness areas, making exceptions for breaking news.

The permits, Close said, would apply to everything from high-definition video to iPhone snapshots. 


New rules that could be finalized in November by the U.S. Forest Service are giving First Amendment advocates concerns, The Oregonian reports

The restrictions are on the media—specifically, reporters will have to pay up to $1,500 for permits and approval to film or take photos in U.S. Forest Service lands or face up to $1,000 in fines. Critics have said that the rules are vague and critically ignore press freedoms, while the Forest Service has argued that the rules help preserve the untamed character of U.S. wilderness.

"It's pretty unconstitutional," Legal Defense Director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Gregg Leslie. "They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, but they can't."

Forest Service Acting Wilderness Director Liz Close defended the new rules, arguing that the Forest Service is implementing the Wilderness Act of 1964, which was written to protect wilderness areas from exploitation and commercial gain.

This isn't the first time Forest Service rules regarding recording in the wilderness has generated controversy. In 2010, Idaho Public Television was denied access to Idaho wilderness to film a student conservation crew under a previous set of restrictions, but the Forest Service ultimately gave in to political pressure exerted by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. 
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Boise State Annuls Fines From Gun Rights Event

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Back in May 2014, the Young Americans for Liberty group sponsored a campus speech by gun-rights advocate Dick Heller at Boise State University. The school charged $465 in security fines for the event, but met backlash from the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. The Idaho Freedom Foundation considered the fines a violation of the First Amendment. 

The Associated Press reports this afternoon that Boise State officials said they will rescind the security fines.

University attorney Kevin Satterlee said the extra fines were charged after a community member was seen encouraging attendees to bring weapons onto campus. He told the AP that not providing extra security would've been considered negligence. Boise police staffed the gun-rights event with additional officers, and the university justified the fines to the group as a way to defray costs to students and taxpayers. 

Satterlee said Boise State will not change its event policies as the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the ACLU of Idaho requested. The groups called the policies unconstitutional and threatened to sue unless they are amended. 

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Boise State Faces Possible Lawsuit Over Gun-Rights Event

Posted By on Sat, Jul 5, 2014 at 12:08 PM

CORRECTION: In a story July 2 about security costs surrounding a gun-rights event, The Associated Press reported erroneously a statement by a Boise State University spokesman. The Boise State spokesman said it was a community member who encouraged people to openly carry guns on campus, not gun-rights activist Dick Heller. A corrected version of the story is below.

When the Young Americans for Liberty group sponsored a campus speech by gun-rights advocate Dick Heller in May, Boise State charged $465 in security fines for the event. Now, the Center for Defense of Liberty alleges that violated the First Amendment rights of the demonstration. The Boise-based, private legal organization—which is a division of the Idaho Freedom Foundation—wants Boise State to change its policies or face a possible lawsuit.

Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn said it's not the school  has been known to charge for extra security at events in order to defray costs to students and taxpayers. Boise police staffed the gun-rights event with additional officers to ensure safety after the school found out that a member of the community was encouraging those attending Heller's talk to openly carry weapons on campus. 

The Center for Defense of Liberty wants the university to return the money and revise its policies. In a letter sent to the school on June 30, the organization also said the school required prior approval of event fliers and removed the event information from their website. University officials have until July 14 to respond.

Boise State is currently facing a separate free speech lawsuit from an anti-abortion organization that claims the university violated the First Amendment by restricting camps protesters to "speech zones." 
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Mercy For Animals Investigator Speaks Out Against Ag-Gag Bill (Contains Graphic Video)

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:56 PM

In this week's edition of Boise Weekly, readers learned about Senate Bill 1337, also known as the "ag-gag" bill, which criminalizes undercover photography and filming at Idaho farms and dairies. 

The bill is a response to actions by Mercy For Animals, an animal rights organization that during the course of an investigation into Bettencourt Dairies in 2012 witnessed workers and managers abusing—and in some cases sexually assaulting—dairy cows. 

BW chatted with MFA Director of Investigations Matt Rice, who spearheaded the Bettencourt investigation, in which members of the organization applied for and received work at the dairy. The activists used their real names and Social Security numbers when applying for work, and performed whatever jobs were asked of them while secretly filming. They were legal employees, and under current Idaho law, their clandestine filming operations were, at most, fireable offenses. Under SB 1337, they would would have netted them large fines or even jail time.

"Our investigators are given very specific instructions: Go to work and document the conditions. They are the eyes and ears for the public, who are kept largely in the dark," Rice said.

Bettencourt Dairies was MFA's fourth dairy farm investigation (to date, MFA has investigated five). At all five dairies, MFA's investigations have revealed cruel conditions for animals and resulted in criminal convictions for workers and managers.

"The shocking thing is, every single time our documenters get hired, they find things that shock most Americans," Rice said. "It makes it very plain that there's a huge problem in the factory farming industry."

Rice said SB 1337 only highlights that problem by drawing a curtain of legality around the issue. Under the ag-gag rule, dairies could ask for criminal charges to be brought against employees who blow the whistle on animal abuse using photo or video evidence—up to a year in jail and fines of up to $5,000.

"It really is a transparent attempt by the industry to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public," he said. 

The proposed law would have another effect: chilling First Amendment freedoms. MFA's investigator was employed at Bettencourt Dairies while documenting animal abuse; passing SB 1337 would amount to a de facto nondisclosure agreement between dairy employees and management.

"What these industries want to do is have the power to put you in prison for taking a picture against their rules. It violates freedom of speech and freedom of the press. [SB 1337] will be challenged in court and it will cost taxpayers a lot of money," Rice said.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Attorney Attempts to Out Anonymous Bloggers in North Idaho Courtroom

Posted By on Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 9:07 AM

In a bizarre courtroom proceeding, an attorney tried to out three anonymous online commenters late last week.

The Coeur d'Alene Press reports that Matthew Andersen began a hearing in a north Idaho courtroom by paging three commenters, asking them to step forward if they were sitting in the room. He then asked a bailiff to do the same in the hallway. Nobody came forward.

The stunt was part of a hearing to determine if a north Idaho Republican leader had the right to reveal the identities of three commenters on a blog, managed by The Spokesman-Review. Tina Jacobson claims that the bloggers defamed her, suggesting she stole money from the GOP.

The three commenters go by the names "almostinnocentbystander," "Phaedrus" and "OutofStateTater."

"Almostinnocentbystander" wrote: "Is that the missing $10,000 from Kootenai County Central Committee funds actually stuffed inside Tina's blouse??? Let's not try to find out."

But attorney Duane Swinton, representing the Spokesman-Review, said, "The right to speak anonymously is protected by the First Amendment," and that revealing the identities of the commenters would undercut the free flow of information on the newspaper's website.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anonymous Strikes Again: This Time, The Westboro Baptist Church

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 3:45 PM

Ladies and gentlemen: there is an Internet war on. And it's raging with all the maturity of a fourth grade "he said-she said" match. But unlike those conflicts, this one is has the potential for serious and tangible consequences on national and global affairs.

Anonymous—a loose coalition of hackers—rose to international attention late last year with its defense of the website by launching the Internet equivalent of guerilla war against anyone who attacked it or its founder, Julian Assange. Everyone from politicians to web-security companies to Visa were assailed with denial-of-service attacks and defacement of websites.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Supremes back Idaho anti-union law

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 5:08 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision handed down today, ruled that Idaho can bar payroll deductions to union political funds in cities, counties, school districts and other political subdivisions.

The First Amendment prohibits gov-ernment from “abridging the freedom of speech”; it does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expres-sion. Idaho’s law does not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities. Such a decision is reasonable in light of the State’s interest in avoiding theappearance that carrying out the public’s business istainted by partisan political activity. That interest ex-tends to government at the local as well as state level, and nothing in the First Amendment prevents a State fromdetermining that its political subdivisions may not provide payroll deductions for political activities.
That's from the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. We wrote about the case when the Supreme Court took it on last summer. Though attorneys for Idaho argued that it was a state's right case, as in the state can tell its political subdivisions how to do their payrolls, Roberts' opinion weighs squarely on the First Amendment issues at stake.
Idaho does not suppress political speech but simply declines to promote it through public employer checkoffs for political activities. The concern that political payroll deductions might be seen as involving public employers in politics arises only because Idaho permits public employer payroll deductions in the first place.
The Idaho Education Association response, in one way, undermines its own arguments in opposing the Voluntary Contributions Act.
In the wake of the VCA’s passage, IEA members began making their political donations by other means, particularly by electronic funds transfers (EFT).
“Our members are increasingly comfortable with EFT and other alternatives to the payroll deduction method for making their political contributions to the Political Action Committee for Education (PACE),” said IEA President Sherri Wood.
“Educators have a civic right and responsibility to engage in political action,” Wood said. “We remain committed to exercising our rights and responsibilities on behalf of our students and our profession.”
Still, the teachers' union argues, and some of the Supreme Court justices agreed, the 2003 VCA was squarely aimed at punishing their members: "We are disappointed that the Court did not invalidate a law clearly intended to target union speech,” said IEA General Counsel John Rumel in a press release.

And according to Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent:
I agree that the First Amendment doesnot prohibit government from “declining to promote” speech. It says that government shall not “abridg[e] the freedom of speech.” (Emphasis added) . But I do not think the distinction particularly useful in this case. That is because here the distinction is neither easy todraw nor likely to prove determinative. Sometimes, I concede, the distinction may help. Were there no payrolldeduction system at all and were the unions arguing forthe creation of such a system from scratch, one mightcharacterize their claim as seeking the promotion of speech. But that is not the situation here. A deduction system already exists. The unions attack a separatestatutory provision that removes politically related deduc-tions from that system. And linguistically speaking, one need not characterize such an attack as (1) seeking speech promotion rather than (2) seeking to prevent an abridg-ment of political-speech-related activity that otherwise (i.e., in the absence of the exception) would occur. In such an instance, the debate over characterization is more metaphysical than practical.
Conservative groups that intervened in the case on behalf of Idaho lauded the decision: “This is a great win. The First Amendment does not require government to devote taxpayer resources to facilitating the speech of its workers, their preferred political organizations, or anyone else,” said Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson. “This sets the table for states across the nation to set up similar prohibitions,” Wilson added.

As a matter of public policy, government systems should not be used to collect income or political funds for private organizations. The Supreme Court ruled that if unions want to engage in political activity they can collect contributions from individual donors—just like any other political candidate or entity. Nothing in the First Amendment forces local governments to act as the union’s political fundraiser. The law does not prohibit free speech, and it does not prevent members from donating to the union’s political causes.

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