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Animal cruelty and free speech
Are videos of dogfights protected by the First Amendment?
 

"Anyone with an ounce of decency should be tempted to ban animal-abuse videos," said The New York Times in an editorial, "but anyone with an appreciation for the First Amendment understands why we cannot." The Supreme Court should keep that in mind Tuesday as it hears arguments in the case of Robert Stevens, whose business, "Dogs of Velvet and Steel," sold videos of pit bulls fighting, and attacking other animals. Even "deeply offensive" expression is protected by the Constitution.

The 1999 federal law under which Stevens was prosecuted "is not only constitutional," said the Humane Society of the United States in Opposing Views, but it's "urgently needed to stop the abuse of animals." Videos of women in stiletto heels crushing or burning small animals—"like obscenity and child abuse—play no part in the expression of ideas." So there's nothing unconstitutional about regulating or banning them, the way we do child pornography.

Comparing Robert Stevens' videos to child pornography hardly seems fair, said Andrew Belonsky in Gawker. "Sure, dogfighting's cruel and people who watch the movies are not quite right in the head." But free speech is a precious thing, and we should always be reluctant to place new limits on it, no matter who ends up being offended.

 

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