Judge rules animal snuff films protected by Constitution

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Judge rules animal snuff films protected by Constitution

Animal cruelty illustration

We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. William Ralph Inge, The Idea of Progress

Torturing animals for fun, as long as it is captured on camera, is an act protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to a federal judge in Texas.

Animal crush videos depict extreme torture and violence toward animals as a sexual fetish for viewers and became a federal crime under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010.

After Houston couple Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Wayne Justice were arrested earlier this year for producing and selling videos of Richards slowly mutilating cats and hacking puppies legs off with a meat cleaver, among numerous other sickening acts of cruelty, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake threw out all federal charges on the grounds that animal snuff films are protected speech.

animal snuff filmThe Houston Press’ exhaustive coverage of the case, Open Season: Do Laws Against Animal Crushing Videos Violate Free Speech?, describes the screams of a duct-taped bound cat being cut apart and a pit-bull puppy being hacked to death as Richards, dressed in black lingerie and a mask, asks the puppy “are you scared?”

Using the alias Cruel Meshalette on a crush-fetish site where a cast of provocatively dressed girls impaled crawfish, crabs and goldfish in streaming dollar-a-minute videos, Richards and her cameraman, Justice, would tempt their viewers with the prospect of paying for a customized experience on a whole other level of depravity.

Patrons would email specifics of the preferred animal, and the personalized torture script. In one video labeled “Puppy 2,” the Press reports Richards urinated on the gutted body of a dog as she held his severed head in her hand.

Scary enough that these two monsters breathe the same air as my pets, but what should really be sending us to hole up in our homes is that there are enough people who take pleasure out of the intense suffering of innocent creatures to make animal crush videos a profitable business endeavor.

A seasoned investigator with the Animal Beta Project, the association of animal rights activists who first identified Richards and, with PETA, turned the evidence in to police, told the Press that this “case stands out as far and away the worst thing I think we’ll ever see, really.”

So how could an assumed intelligent and stable member of society, a federal judge, use his authority to essentially green light torturing animals for profit?

The answer came at the end of the article in the form of a quote from First Amendment expert and University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone:

“The truth is that we are in fact cruel to animals constantly in our society and we don’t take that interest very seriously,” Stone says. “We don’t take it seriously when we’re hungry. We don’t take it seriously because we like to hunt animals just for the fun of it, and all of a sudden, we take it seriously when people want to make movies.”

Wow. He calls us out as hypocrites and he’s right.

Why is extreme cruelty considered outside the fringes of society’s acceptance simply because people derive pleasure from watching it depicted on video?

Let’s look at this from the animals’ perspective.

Does it matter to the animals when they are debeaked , tail docked, raped on the rape rack , forcibly separated from their mothers, live years in intensive confinement, boiled, skinned and ground up alive, or strung up and sliced open while conscious whether the person doing it actually enjoys causing them pain or is indifferent?

Does the motive behind the cruelty lessen any of their suffering? The obvious answer is no. And the clear conclusion is that being horrified at Richards’ acts of violence and continuing to dine on the tortured flesh of dead animals makes us hypocrites.

I recently came across a 2010 New York Times article, The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome, which takes an in-depth look at the connection between animal abuse and other violent criminal behaviors.

The article details how law enforcement and society as a whole are starting to take seriously how human-on-human violence is often preceded by and associated with animal abuse.

But what prefaces direct animal abuse? Where’s the gateway violence?

The most obvious answer would be passive animal abuse, better known as eating meat.

The gateway violence is not torturing animals – people don’t just start there. The gateway comes from the blessing of society.

It’s perfectly healthy and normal to eat animals that have suffered and been killed for our taste preferences, but people who engage in torturing animals for entertainment preferences are sick and twisted.

“There seems to be little doubt anymore about the notion that a person’s capacity for empathy can be eroded,” Charles Siebert writes in The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome.

And if empathy were a cliff, taking that first bite of dead animal and being told that it’s okay that cow was killed because you really like the taste of hamburgers would be the first rock to fall victim to the inevitable pressures of erosion.

 Illustration by Meaghan C Kehoe, photo via The Houston Press

Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures. Visit her blog at www.bluewaterspecial.com for a dose of sarcasm, humor and news.

  • killersamongus

    Sick! This is wrong! If these animals can be tortured, then so many humans can be labeled animals so therefore, we can torture human animals while they are being video taped too! Free speech, yes? AHHH! This is insane! I doubt the animals would approve of this if they could speak damn it! You are sick yourself Tina Page!

  • Mai

    How about torturing & killing any living being is evil and reprehensible. Don’t try to make this some kind of diatribe about those who eat meat are hypocrites because blah blah blah. I myself do not eat meat, but I don’t go around trying to make others feel horrible that they do because I’m feeling morally superior. People who eat meat have a right to feel angry that these… pieces of trash (to put it lightly) tortured and killed countless puppies and kittens for their own profit and sick pleasure. To say they go hand in hand is ridiculous. People who slaughter cows and chickens don’t videotape it to then later pleasure themselves to it. A lion kills to eat. Humans kill to eat. Deriving any kind of pleasure from this is what separates those who are truly evil.

    • http://www.bluewaterspecial.com/ Tina Page

      Mai,

      I appreciate your anger regarding this sickening subject.

      And in the interest of not being misunderstood, I’d like to take a
      moment to respond.

      Of course meat eaters can, and should, be horrified by the gratuitous
      acts of sadistic cruelty inflicted on the innocent animals in these snuff
      videos. If meat eaters are not horrified, then there’s no hope for change
      regarding the billions of animals who suffer and die for our food choices.

      And I believe these snuff videos should be illegal. If fact, the reason
      I referenced The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome article is because it discusses how there is a progression of violence. Most serial killers start with animals. It doesn’t mean every kid who hurts an animal is going to go on to become a serial killer, it just demonstrates that serial killers usually don’t start with killing people.

      Just like not every meat eater will go on to hurt animals, the idea
      that it’s ok for animals to suffer because we like to eat them plants a seed in
      kids’ minds that may give someone with the right concoction of genes and poor environment (i.e. abusive parents) the ability to move up the ladder of
      depravity.

      There certainly are levels of depravity, and Richards has reached the
      top as far as animals are concerned. But I have a hard time believing that she could have gotten there had she been raised to value the lives of animals to the extent that a vegetarian does.

      I question whether you have actually seen any of the undercover footage
      from slaughterhouses. I have yet to view one that does not portray a good
      amount of the people working in this capacity as engaging in gratuitous
      violence against the animals in their “care.” Most of them look to be enjoying
      their actions as well, if that demonstrates a greater moral void in your
      opinion.

      And, most meat eaters enjoy the taste of the animals they are eating.

      I also question whether you really are a vegetarian, as few that I know
      would use a lion’s actions as their moral standard of behavior. Lions kill out
      of necessity. Humans kill out of choice, as any vegetarian knows.

      The fact is that if none of us ate meat then there would be fewer instances of violence against animals. In his conclusion, the judge points out that laws against animal crush films could apply to videos of the legal slaughter of a cow. He makes the connection that cats being cut up alive differs little from cows being cut up alive. So if one cruelty excuses another, perhaps neither should be acceptable.

      There’s no moral high ground here. I suffer with all of the animals. My
      appeal is to those who are horrified at the pain endured by the innocent
      victims of Richards’ greed and depravity to take a deeper look at the greater
      suffering forced upon the innocent victims of our, greed, yes, and taste
      preferences.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Tina

      • Mai

        I never claimed to be vegetarian, only that I do not eat meat, so perhaps that title comes with a certain type of enlightenment that I do not posses. I do not believe that act of killing an animal for food leads to any kind of sociopathic tendencies as in the past Native Americans would kill animals for food, but would do so with great respect for that animal.
        There in lies the real problems (at least to me): the lack of respect for animals as living beings with thoughts and feelings. They are seen as a disposable commodity by most, and while I agree that in an ideal world all humans would altogether stop eating meat I do not see this as realistic any time soon.

        The real issue here not to debate whether eating meat is right or wrong though. It is to inform those who do not know that this horrific crime has taken place, so that we could perhaps band together and do something that would change the laws. To maybe get this idiot judge to resign, and these evil f&*#ers put away for a very long time. I apologize for my language, but these “people” have brought out such anger and disgust I have not felt before. I just believe that a deviation from this topic onto something else more broad does a disservice to all those small animals that had to suffer. Things need to definitely change in regards to the way animals are being treated, unfortunately it is not something that can be done overnight.

        However this is your article and you can talk about whatever you like. Just letting you what my opinion is, and that your original article was perceived a certain way… and probably not just by me.

        Thank you for responding.

  • valhalla

    These -monsters live in all walks of life-how can a judge come to this conclusion-condoning this evil? we are taught by our parents and society to be kind to animals -right from wrong -if this sickening-filth was declared a federal crime under the Animal crush video prohibition Act of 2010-how can this judge make a judgment against that ruling? if these sycophaths can commit any type of cruelty on these poor little animals and have a judge like this man condoning it -we have lost not only our -humanity -we have lost our soul.

  • Jason

    I would point out that Animal cruelty is still very, very illegal in Texas. Please see http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.42.htm#42.092 which makes it a very serious crime to torture animals in Texas- particularly for repeat offenders. This animal cruelty prohibition remains very much in effect. I imagine that local prosecutors could easily prosecute these two sadist under this law.

    Also, If anyone cares to read the opinion in order to understand the actual reasoning behind it, a copy is available here: http://images.politico.com/global/2013/04/23/130423_animal_crush_opinion.html

    Lastly, I would point out that this ruling could actually have a net-positive benefit for animal welfare because of the ruling’s negative implications for the legal viability of the so-called “ag-gag” laws being proposed around the country.