A case before the U.S. Supreme Court court involving a Virginia man who sold gruesome videos of dog fights may turn out to be a crucial test of free speech rights.
We believe most people would be disgusted by the videos, which show pit bulls violently tearing each other apart while upbeat music is played. They show animal cruelty at its worst.
But are the videos sold by Robert J. Stevens covered by the First Amendment, or are they in a special category outside free speech protections? We believe the videos, as offensive as they are, must be protected, and that Stevens' conviction should be overturned.
What if journalists had used the same images to show how widespread dog fighting is and to educate the public on the need for stiffer laws against dog fighting? In this case, Stevens was trying to make a buck by appealing to the worst instincts of his customers. That shouldn't make his videos illegal.
It must be remembered that he did not stage the events. In fact, Steven claims to be opposed to dog fighting despite his obvious attempts to profit from these ghastly images.
During oral arguments before the high court on Tuesday, justices raised other questions about the federal law passed in 1999. News outlets reported that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about videos of cockfighting, and Justice Antonin Scalia offered this hypothetical:
"What if I am an aficionado of bullfights and I think, contrary to the animal cruelty people, they ennoble both beast and man?"
Justice Stephen G. Breyer even asked about "stuffing geese for pate de foie gras."
To read the complete editorial, visit The Fresno Bee.