Last year, Tennessee was the only state whose legislature passed an Ag Gag bill aimed at silencing whistleblowers who expose abuse on industrial farms. Ten other states introduced similar measures, but each bill ultimately died in state legislatures. FIC was part of a strong campaign against these terrible pieces of legislation, and after a groundswell of pressure in Tennessee (including from country singer Carrie Underwood), Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the state bill.
Despite the campaign's success, we're still wagging our fingers at the legislators that tried to muzzle on-the-ground truth-tellers who believe the public should know what's happening behind factory farm doors. So we were glad to see that Tennessee legislators are being officially recognized for their misdeeds in the 2014 Jefferson Muzzles.
The Jefferson Muzzles are awards handed out each year by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression (TJC). They are given to institutions that disregard Jefferson's admonition that freedom of speech "cannot be limited without being lost." It's no surprise that this year's "winners" include a state that shamelessly pushed anti-whistleblower Ag Gag legislation last year.
Tennessee is hardly the first state to propose or even pass ag-gag legislation. Singling out the General Assembly for a Muzzle may therefore seem unfair. Yet of all the bills proposed in 2013, reporting requirements of the sort found in the Tennessee bill are uniquely troubling from a First Amendment point of view. Furthermore, it came the closest to actually becoming law.
Congratulations, Tennessee legislators, for violating Jeffersonian ideals that enable an informed public. Hopefully you won't make the same mistake in 2014.
Ag Gag measures continue to be challenged due to their threats to the freedom of speech and press. For example, a lawsuit has been filed to overturn Idaho's Ag Gag law, which was unfortunately passed in February 2014. To stay updated on the ongoing battle against Ag Gag, follow FIC on Facebook and Twitter.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.