Dear Mr. President,
Tonight I'm having a heated discussion with friends about the Supreme Court's decision on animal cruelty videos. I made Hollandaise sauce for the first time, so maybe I was feeling just a bit arrogant. Anyway, I quickly realized it might be a mistake to start such a conversation in this group of people. None of us knows what to think, and the few that started out certain of their opinions are not so any longer. I only know that I don't know anything completely. I'm a big advocate of free speech; I'm also a big advocate of people not being allowed to profit from or get off on animals being tortured and killed. Maybe this is a real test of my first amendment advocacy. After all, it's easy to defend speech that you don't find objectionable. The real test is when some one's behavior crosses your personal threshold for acceptable expression.
I don't disagree with the Supreme Court about this specific law; it was overly broad and clearly problematic in several ways. I think that the cruelty toward animals practiced by many agricultural companies and even some hunters has no place in our society, but I recognize that I'm among the most extreme in these views. Still, I think there's some common ground to be found in the worst cases of violence against animals. Try as I might, articulating that in legal terms has been difficult. Could we ban the sale, distribution or possession of pornographic videos that involve live animals? Defining pornography, of course, becomes problematic.
How do you feel about this decision, Mr. President? Do you feel that the law struck down should be re-written in a way that doesn't pose a threat to the first amendment? Is this an area of expression that warrants some restriction? Or should we accept this horrifying material as the unavoidable by-product of living in a free society?
I don't think any one, even the 8 Justices who voted with the majority on this, feel good about today's decision. It is one of those haunting reminders of the frightening and even dangerous complexities of our society; our complete inability to be safe, free, and morally upright all at once, all the time.