Glowacki: SB 113 is about more than animal rights

By By Luke Glowacki

By Luke Glowacki

The Utah State Legislature is currently considering a bill that would conceal the names of animal researchers receiving public funds. In a boisterous discussion following The Daily Utah Chronicle‘s Friday coverage of the legislation, Senate Bill 113, emotions ran high. Real debate about the bill was drowned out by name-calling, verbal abuse and finger-pointing in the online scuffle.

The morality and legality of animal vivisection is important to both sides of the animal rights debate. Both sides would probably agree that the administrative regulations stipulating how animals in research facilities are to be treated allow researchers to hurt and sometimes kill those animals, but disagree about the moral acceptability of these actions.

However important the moral issue of primate research is, it is not relevant to the debate around S.B. 113 because this bill isn’t about vivisection — it’s about concealing public information.

Utah Primate Freedom has a history of protesting outside the homes of researchers at the U who are involved in animal vivisection. Although the thought of protestors demonstrating outside personal residences might be unpalatable to some, America has a long history of citizen activism at private residences.

We might not agree with the politics of Cindy Sheehan, but we respect her right to protest outside the Texas ranch of George W. Bush. Likewise, we respect the right of protestors to demonstrate outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her stance on the Iraq war or the right of parents to protest outside the home of convicted child sex offenders. If protestors violate laws, at the White House and here in Salt Lake City, most animal rights advocates would agree that they should be prosecuted accordingly. But this isn’t what is under dispute with S.B. 113.

The issue at hand is whether the names of public employees who engage in research on any animal, including mice and fruit flies, should be concealed.

The best way to answer this question is through a two-prong test. First, does the bill achieve the professed aims of its sponsors and could its ends be realized in a way that better serves the public interest? The answer to these questions should be the deciding factor in whether concealing the names of certain researchers is appropriate, not feelings about animal rights or residential protests.

S.B. 113 is sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Davis, and supported by U President Michael Young. Ostensibly, the purpose is “to protect animal researchers from potential threats” from animal rights supporters who, according to Sen. Bell, have crossed the line by protesting at researchers’ homes.

Although S.B. 113 would conceal the names of animal researchers in the short term, this information is available by other means, such as the Freedom of Information Act in certain instances. It’s hard to see how this bill would protect researchers given that the concealed information would still be accessible.

It’s also hard to believe that this legislation is not targeting a specific group because of its unpopular position. Animal rights groups have a history of unorthodox protesting techniques, and there have been instances of destruction of property by certain groups in other states.

Utah Primate Freedom has never been involved in these actions. And, to the best of my knowledge, it has made no violent threats to animal researchers at the U.

Through the Government Records Access and Management Act, the names of all public employees, with few exceptions such as undercover police officers, are publicly accessible. This means the names of judges, district attorneys and police officers are public.

These individuals seem as likely to be victims of harm as scientists who work on fruit flies. The rationale Bell and Young give for supporting S.B. 113 would equally require concealing the names of these public employees. This is something few would favor.

The second prong of the test involves asking whether the intent of the bill can be achieved by a means that better serves the public interest. Concealing information frequently leads to a lack of accountability and an abuse of power. It’s a slippery slope and the sort of thing that should be avoided if possible.

Specific legislation protecting individuals in their homes would have the desired effect S.B. 113 is intended to have without concealing public information.

For instance, last week the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting protests within 100 feet of the targeted individual’s home. Other ordinances could further protect public safety, such as better enforcement of no trespassing and anti-harassment laws or requiring protest permits within residential areas. These would serve the purpose of S.B. 113 without the deleterious effects of concealing public information.

In the end, legal expressions of speech, even if they seem inappropriate, should not result in governmental concealment of public information. Instead, this should be a chance to ask how we can respect both the rights and safety of protestors and those being protested against while protecting the values we hold dear.

Luke Glowacki is a graduate assistant in philosophy.