A federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that accuses the Kansas State Fair of violating the animal rights group’s free speech rights.
PETA filed the suit this week, naming the Kansas State Fair Board, the state of Kansas and the fair’s general manager, Denny Stoecklein, as defendants. The hearings will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
At issue is a 13-minute video called Glass Walls that PETA wants to show at its booth at the Kansas State Fair, which begins on Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 16. The video shows images from undercover videos shot at slaughterhouses and farms. PETA describes the video, narrated by ex-Beatle and vegetarian Paul McCartney, as “gruesome.”
The Kansas State Fair told PETA that it can’t show a video or pictures “that depict animal slaughter, animal harvest, hide removal, or show or depict live animals being decapitated, dismembered or butchered.” The fair board further instructed that any such images must “not be readily visible to passersby or the general public on any side of the booth.”
PETA argues the content-based restrictions violate its free speech rights because the fair is a public forum. The Kansas attorney general's office contends the restrictions are lawful and has vowed to zealously defend fair officials. The sides will argue on whether to grant a restraining order blocking enforcement of the restrictions.
Last year, PETA attempted to exhibit similar booth at the State Fair of Texas but was denied. PETA’s exhibit first appeared at this year’s Iowa State Fair where an issue surfaced not so much with the video’s imagery, but with the audio. As fair organizers stated “four-letter words are not allowed in fair exhibits.” Rather than agree to a compromise solution PETA removed its own booth from the fairgrounds. It was allowed to return after it addressed the word usage.
At the Colorado State Fair, PETA had an anti-4-H display that focused on its four H’s—which stood for "Hell for animals," "Heart attack–inducing," "Hazard to the environment," and "Hypocritical for teaching kids to care about only certain animals and to disrespect others." It also displayed the video.
In the Kansas suit, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas and Western Missouri is representing PETA free of charge, along with Kansas City law firm Copilevitz & Canter. As PETA reported, Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said, "I've never seen anything like this—this is a classic content-based restriction on what the speaker can say, which I think is unconstitutional."
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, Wichita, Kan., will preside over the hearing on PETA’s request for the court to block the restrictions placed on its Kansas State Fair booth. Marten has been called a staunch defender of the First Amendment.
Judge Marten was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, and has a record that shows an unwavering deference to free speech rights.