Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of extraordinarily ill-informed, poorly articulated arguments made in public settings by people trying to stand in the way of progress for animals. But rarely have I seen such a spectacle as I witnessed yesterday (watching online) on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. By a vote of 56 to 26, that body approved a bill, H.B. 2250, to make it a crime for charitable organizations devoted to animals to solicit funds from Oklahomans to support their work, if the groups spend any money out of state or do any lobbying work.
H.B. 2250, sponsored by Reps. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, and John Enns, R-Enid, seeks to deny Oklahomans the right to make their own philanthropic choices. Such a restriction by the state is patently unconstitutional, and any sensible judge would strike it down as a violation of the First Amendment. But Rep. Renegar, and a fair number of other lawmakers who supported the bill, didn’t seem conversant with the core tenets of the First Amendment, and why it’s overreaching and anti-American for them to bar charities they don’t like from soliciting private support.
The precedent contemplated is breathtaking. If lawmakers don’t like the work of civil rights groups, or gay-rights advocates, can they just bar them from soliciting money for that work if those groups work to support a landmark court case or back state or federal legislation to advance their interests? If they don’t like a religious group that does work in the state but that also conducts missions around the country and the world, will they block their fundraising, too? The “what ifs” are endless, and they draw out why this type of legislating is so blatantly out of bounds and at odds with American principles of freedom and free speech.
The authors carved out an exception for groups focused “primarily on companion animals,” but that means that groups that work to crack down on other animal abuses, like the ivory trade, cockfighting or bullfighting, the extreme confinement of farm animals in cages or crates, the seal hunt in Canada, or commercial whaling worldwide (or any of hundreds of campaigns conducted by animal organizations) would be prevented from fundraising to fight these abuses. Are these somehow not legitimate campaigns because they are not directed specifically to help companion animals?
Because it will be struck down if it is enacted, H.B. 2250 will do nothing in the end to stop animal groups from raising money. But it will cost the state of Oklahoma tens of thousands of dollars to defend this statute before it’s nullified by the courts. Does the state, reeling from the decline of oil prices, really have extra money to burn?
It reminds me of historical examples, like the time when states in the South, in the 1950s, tried to crack down on civil rights activities by harassing organizations (in addition to meting out violence against protestors), or when states, a century ago, tried to stifle the movement to give women the right to vote.
At a particularly low point in the 1950s, we saw the ugly strain of McCarthyism, and the smearing of innocent people with vague and unsubstantiated charges. It was all so un-American, so wrong, so evil.
In cahoots with their allies – specifically factory farming trade groups, cockfighters, and puppy millers — legislators are attempting to defund an entire category of work that helps billions of animals throughout the world every year. They aren’t restricting government spending, because charities like The HSUS don’t get government money (except in rare circumstances); rather, they are seeking to tell Oklahomans they know better than they do and to forbid them from spending charitable dollars as they wish.
And it’s especially convenient for them to act now. Lawmakers have put a “right to farm” measure (State Question 777) on the statewide ballot for November – to enshrine in law all existing agricultural practices, including extreme confinement of farm animals and puppy mill operations. HB 2250 is an attempt to defund the very groups who have sniffed out their plan on behalf of Big Agriculture.
So, in Oklahoma, we see the union of SQ 777 and the defunding of animal protection groups — an effort to immunize factory farming interests against any legislative oversight and to prevent their opponents from even participating in the debate. They won’t succeed, but it’s incredibly diabolical and requires good people to call it out.
P.S. See how Oklahoma lawmakers voted on HB 2250.