Monday, September 21, 2009

Dog Fighting, Videos, and the First Amendment

Okay, this is a very tough one for me. I absolutely detest dog fighting and the people who are involved in it. But at the same time, as a quasi-journalist, I treasure the free speech protection of the First Amendment.
So a newspaper article "Brutal videos protected?" about Robert J. Stevens, convicted of violating a ban against trafficking in depictions of animal cruelty, is a hard call for me. He was convicted for selling videos on the "history and status of pit bulls," including dog fighting. He was not involved in the dog fighting, I don't think was even present at any of the fights, but he did collect and publish video of them, with his own commentary attached.
The 1999 law was enacted originally against "crush" videos showing mainly women crushing small animals with their own feet.
Stevens' conviction was overturned and the law struck down by a federal appeals court. It is scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court.
Is video of dogfighting so vile that it should not be protected under the First Amendment? Should it be allowed for educational purposes only, or as a profit-making venture? And where do you draw the line? Is a brief clip enough to initiate a lawsuit, or does dog fighting have to be the main subject matter of the video?
IN my own "I wish this were how things really are" world, this wouldn't be an issue because no one would ever consider buying a video of dog fighting. But that's far from a real world solution. Apparently Mr. Stevens has been making a fair amount of money from his video efforts, which also include dogs hunting wild boar.
Are there any parallels to be drawn between this and child pornography? If you allow one, do you have to allow the other? If you ban one, does that have any impact on banning the other? I know there are people out there who rail against public outcry over cruelty to animals, saying that we should save our concern for our own human species. Well, I certainly don't buy into that one.
If I were sitting on the Supreme Court when this was brought forward, what would I do? I think I would have to search deep in my soul and, in the end, rule for First Amendment protection. I don't like that choice particularly, but I find it very difficult to draw lines between degrees of heinousness. And I would hope that karma would have something to do with the lives of anyone benefiting from dog fighting, be it with live dogs or via video.

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