Nov. 15, 2006 – Monday afternoon, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that reclassifies unlawful animal-rights tactics as terrorism under certain conditions, even if they are non-violent.
As reported by The NewStandard just hours before the House took its voice vote on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), the bill will classify civil disobedience actions â€“ such as blockades, property destruction, trespassing, and the freeing of captive animals â€“ as terrorism.
The AETA amends current law enabling the government to prosecute activists for intentionally damaging property used by "animal enterprises" â€“ businesses that use or sell animals. The AETA expands those provisions to enhance penalties against activists who "interfere" with animal enterprises by destroying property or engaging in behavior that appears "threatening." It even includes perceive threats to companies that work with animal enterprises and takes into account resulting profit losses.
The House passed the Senateâ€™s version of the bill, which was approved in September. Critics consider that version bad enough, but they had been especially alarmed that a House version of the bill swept in "non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise" as an offense if it causes a loss of profits. While the Senate version does not explicitly ban such activity, critics believe it to be vague enough to encompass civil disobedience in its scope.
The AETA does make specific provisions to safeguard activity protected under the First Amendment, but critics have raised concerns it could have the effect of discouraging even lawful protests.
Because only a voice vote was taken, there is no record of who approved or opposed the AETA bill. Representative Dennis Kucinich (Dâ€“Ohio) spoke against the legislation, saying it compromises civil rights and threatens to "chill" free speech.
Kucinich also addressed the animals he fears will be less protected if the legislation scares off protesters. "Just as we need to protect peopleâ€™s right to conduct their work without fear of assault, so too this Congress has yet to address some fundamental ethical principles with respect to animals. How should animals be treated humanely? This is a debate that hasn't come here."