Niedrich: Over-the-top protests penalizes public

By Anastasia Niedrich

As soon as Gov. Jon Huntsman signs Senate Bill 113 into law, the personal information of Utah educational institutions’ medical or scientific researchers will be protected and almost totally unavailable to the public through Government Records Access and Management Act or other legal requests.

This means that if animal rights groups or anyone else wants to find out the names, home addresses or other identifying information of the U’s researchers, they won’t be able to get the information by requesting it from the university, which will not be legally bound to provide the information.

Currently, animal rights group members or any other members of the public can request this type of information from the university through GRAMA. That doesn’t mean they will get it, but as things are now, they can still legally request it. Once it becomes law, SB 113 will put the private information of state institutions’ researchers into a category that will exempt it from GRAMA requests, meaning that the public won’t even be able to legally request this type of information anymore.

The organization Utah Primate Freedom and others have stated that they are concerned about this type of change in the law for several reasons, one of which being that it might lead to a slippery slope of secrecy information and a loss of transparency in government affairs.

Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, has stated that he sponsored SB 113 to respond to animal rights protesters from Utah Primate Freedom and other organizations who had been harassing U researchers on campus and at their homes.

I find it unfortunate that Sen. Bell and the university found the legislation necessary in the first place. I am a proponent of complete transparency in government in all instances possible, and the actions of a few have cost governmental transparency for many.

I would call myself a reasonable animal rights activist. I care deeply for animals and keep their concerns in the forefront of my mind every day. I don’t eat meat, wear clothing or use products made of animals or that is tested on animals. Although I would do almost anything to protect animals from harm, I will not break the law, harm others or their property. I act legally to advance animals’ rights. I believe doing so is more effective than breaking the law to try to achieve the same aim.

I take issue with activists for any cause that break the law, harm others or their property to try to affect the change they want to see happen. It’s one thing to stand outside an abortion clinic or the U while non-violently, verbally protesting abortion or animal testing. It’s another thing to bomb an abortion clinic or threaten an animal researcher.

There is a time and place for everything and the appropriate place for protesting the U’s animal testing research is at the U, not researchers’ homes.

Although I absolutely detest and oppose animal vivisection (operation or experimentation on a living organism, including but not limited to surgery without anesthesia) as Utah Primate Freedom and other animal rights organizations do, I do not believe that protesting researchers’ practices outside their homes is acceptable.

There is a fine line between protesting and harassment. It is possible to protest something you absolutely detest while still respecting others’ choices to act in total opposition to your beliefs. It would likely be equally or more effective to non-violently protest vivisection outside of the U laboratories as it will to protest outside researchers’ homes. The former respects the practices of others, their privacy and their families’ safety even when we might disagree with them. The latter does not.

Actions by radicals in any group usually have the result of giving the whole group a bad name. For the sake of the rest of us peaceful vegans, vegetarians and animal activists, I hope that this change in the law will provide a sort of incentive for other animal lovers to protest appropriately and in a way that is respectful to others.

To any and all protestors out there: Say what you want to say and be heard, but do so while respecting others’ right to privacy. I am sure we all do things that at least one other person would want to protest. Let’s remember that and treat others respectfully as we would want to be treated, even by those who completely oppose who we are, what we do or what we believe.

Set the example. Don’t perpetuate the negative stereotype. If we all act with respect for others’ views and the rule of law, we can maintain governmental transparency, other rights or benefits that we hold dear.

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