Are animal crush videos free speech? Proposed legislation say “No.”

Today’s “quick vote” poll : Should Congress ban crush videos?

(These are videos that depict the torture, maiming, and killing of small animals, usually being stomped to death by women in spiked heels.) I know these polls are not meant as a substitute for enlightened discussion; rather they’re the nation’s crude, and possibly fleeting, temperature reading on a particular topical issue. Still, reducing this matter to an opinion poll quickie makes me uncomfortable.

The poll appears today as a result of legislation introduced yesterday by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Richard Burr (R-NC) on behalf of the bipartisan Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. Their proposed legislation would criminalize the creation and sale of crush videos; it comes in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down earlier this year .

By an 8-1 margin, a broadly-written law “designed to stop the sale and marketing of videos showing dogfights and other acts of animal cruelty” was struck down by Supreme Court justices calling it “an unconstitutional violation of free speech.” The ruling was announced in April.

Maybe this is a matter of First Amendment rights. Maybe in the bigger picture, it has more to do with self-expression than it does animal cruelty. Maybe legislating this type of free speech begins a slippery slope leading to government censorship of other forms of expression. I make my living off of free speech, and I certainly treasure that right.

But whether it’s my emotions running out of control, or simply a lack of comprehension as to the nuances of the Constitution, I am unable to view this issue as anything other than a question of whether the act of such unspeakable torture is morally permissible. Like child pornography, I fail to see how crush videos are deserving of protection under the First Amendment.

As of this writing, approximately 85,000 people had voted in the CNN poll, 88% for the ban, 12% against. Again, I realize that CNN is asking a legal question, not an ethical one — I’m not suggesting we leave matters of law up to the general voting CNN public. But from a simply humanitarian point of view, I’m heartened.

Guess that’s why I’m a writer, not a lawyer.

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