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Photographers. relax. You can shoot photos of cows right here in Utah

Sunday , January 21, 2018 - 4:00 AM4 comments

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

As Americans, we value our constitutional rights and none are more sacrosanct than our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. We also love cows, wanting to protect our Holsteins in their pastoral, cud-chewing pacifism. Cows are so valued out here in the West, the Utah and Idaho legislatures both passed laws outlawing outlaw cow photography.

Yes, out here in the gun-totin’, rootin’-tootin’ West, we don’t want our cows to be shot, even if it is with a camera. But our judges and the First Amendment, for the most part, are having none of it.

The purpose of these laws was to ostensibly protect corporate farms from exposure, or examination regarding their agricultural secrets. The Idaho law was originally prompted by videos of animal cruelty and mistreatment on an Idaho dairy farm. The film ended up on the www.burgerkingcruelty.com website, among others. The purpose of the Idaho statute, according to the drafter, was to keep the issue out of the “court of public opinion.” Utah soon adopted the same sentiments, for the same reasons, and passed its own laws.

Soon the Idaho and Utah laws were challenged in the courts as unconstitutional. Idaho’s law was overturned in 2015, but then went up on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Utah’s law was challenged in federal district court in 2013, but wasn’t ruled on until July. The Utah case started when Amy Meyer took a video of a bulldozer moving an obviously sick, suffering cow at a slaughterhouse in the rural mecca of Draper. Even though she was standing on public property when she filmed, she was arrested anyway. Sharper minds acted quickly, and she was released and the charges dropped. But it was too late legally; the statute was doomed.

Once Meyer was arrested, she had that elusive prize needed by all First Amendment litigants: standing — the right to sue based on actual proof of damage. Had she not been arrested, her ability to challenge the Utah statute wouldn't have carried nearly as much weight. You don’t necessarily have to be arrested to have standing, but once you are, you get standing along with your handcuffs.

So, within a year of the Legislature passing a law that pretty clearly violated the First Amendment by potentially criminalizing the photography of cows from a public road, a woman was arrested for taking cow pictures. In his July ruling, Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled the law was a First Amendment violation, and it was scuttled atop the heap of previously-deemed unconstitutional legislation.

A couple of weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit upheld the unconstitutionality of the Idaho statute, which prohibited the recording of agricultural operations, i.e. taking pictures of cows. Yes, it's been a solid win for Instagram-loving cows and for freedom out here in the West, folks.

So feel safe to break out your cameras and smartphones. The U.S. District Court for Utah and the Idaho Ninth Circuit Courts have spoken. Cow photography has been legalized! Thank heavens. I personally know many photographers who will be glad they no longer must trek to California or Colorado to photograph cows. So much needless suffering can now be avoided.

And, on a final optimistic note: Monday, the Utah legislature is back in session.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.

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