Texas A&M Sued for Vi­o­lat­ing 1st Amend­ment Re­lated to Its Tor­ture of Dogs

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Many Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ties used to be bas­tions of free speech and pro­gres­sive thought, but these days few are and some are even sup­press­ing free speech and sub­vert­ing the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, such as Texas A&M.

A po­ten­tial land­mark le­gal case was launched by the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (EFF) against Texas A&M Univer­sity in May 2018. It in­volves whether it is le­gal to block public com­ment on a so­cial media page like Face­book if you’re a government en­tity.

EFF Filed the case on be­half of PETA, Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment for An­i­mals. They have been highly crit­i­cal of Texas A&M Univer­sity’s med­i­cal re­search for a pos­si­ble cure for mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy. PETA has no prob­lem with the goal of the re­search. It is im­por­tant and a univer­sity with Texas A&M’S as­sets and rep­u­ta­tion cer­tainly could make a ma­jor break­through in this field, given time, money, the right re­searchers, and luck. What PETA ob­jects to is how Texas A&M need­lessly uses dogs to study the ill­ness.

What Texas A&M is do­ing in this cur­rent re­search is to sup­pos­edly study how mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy func­tions in dogs and use that as a base to eval­u­at­ing po­ten­tial treat­ments for the dis­ease. To do this it first needs a sup­ply of dogs with mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy, which it does by specif­i­cally breed­ing golden re­triev­ers which have a high like­li­hood of de­vel­op­ing the ill­ness. To in­ten­tion­ally breed an­i­mals who will likely suf­fer is in­hu­mane enough. PETA says Texas A&M then subjects the dogs to cruel and in­hu­man treat­ment as a means of eval­u­at­ing the dis­ease and in test­ing ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ments for the ill­ness.

With mod­ern biology be­ing far ahead of what it once was, plus ac­cess to com­puter mod­el­ing and other ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, there is no longer the need for us­ing an­i­mals in this way for most ad­vanced re­search. It may be a more ex­pen­sive way to go to avoid the use of an­i­mals, but that does not jus­tify this ap­proach for any rea­son. Texas A&M is be­ing right­fully at­tacked for its abuse of an­i­mals both in breed­ing dis­ease­prone dogs and in the bru­tal na­ture of the med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments be­ing done with them af­ter they’re born.

What PETA had done in at­tempt­ing to get Texas A&M to stop this was to or­ga­nize a tar­geted ad­vo­cacy cam­paign against this re­search pro­gram. As with many other ac­tivist groups, PETA has cho­sen so­cial media chan­nels such as Face­book to go af­ter the Univer­sity. It had been fil­ing reg­u­lar post­ings crit­i­cal of the re­search on Texas A&M’S Face­book page. Every­thing it posted was also con­sis­tent with Face­book pub­lish­ing guide­lines. Texas A&M, for its part, un­der­stand­ably did not like the crit­i­cism, so they did what any pri­vate cit­i­zen might do when get­ting un­wanted so­cial media chatter: they blocked PETA and any­thing else that sounded like sim­i­lar crit­i­cism from its Face­book page.

What Texas A&M did was to sys­tem­at­i­cally block all posts on its page con­tain­ing the PETA acro­nym, its full or­ga­ni­za­tion name, and spe­cific words such as “cru­elty”, “abuse”, “tor­ture”, “lab”, “test­ing,” and “shut”. That block­ing has stayed in place as of this writ­ing.

The prob­lem with what Texas A&M did comes from a com­bi­na­tion of the na­ture of the univer­sity and the whole idea of what a Face­book page is. Texas A&M Univer­sity is Amer­ica’s sec­ond-largest public univer­sity based on stu­dent pop­u­la­tion. Its Face­book page is used as a for­mal part of this gov­ern­ment­funded ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion’s public out­reach. Its page in­cludes in­for­ma­tion about its ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum, med­i­cal and agri­cul­tural re­search, sports ac­tiv­i­ties, stu­dents and re­lated com­mu­nity mem­bers. As this writ­ing, the page had re­cent ar­ti­cles on a re­search pro­gram to cre­ate corn strains bred specif­i­cally to make whiskey, the open­ing of The Gar­dens (a new 7-acre public area with more than 5,500 trees, plants and flow­ers), the univer­sity’s dog mas­cot, and a look ahead at the school’s fall foot­ball sea­son. There are also the usual links to up­com­ing events and a map show­ing how to find the Univer­sity. And for each post on the page there is the op­por­tu­nity to “Like” or “Com­ment” on it, just as is the case in other Face­book public pages.

It is this use of the Face­book page as a place for public post­ings and di­a­log on be­half of the public Univer­sity that cre­ates its prob­lems in block­ing com­ments, ac­cord­ing to the EFF.

In the com­plaint filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court for the South­ern Dis­trict of Texas on May 14, 2018, PETA says that the Texas A&M Face­book page is a gov­ern­ment­con­trolled fo­rum for speech. It fur­ther says that as such, the page can­not keep speech out based on a poster’s point of view. Yet the univer­sity has sys­tem­at­i­cally blocked PETA and a list of words tied to PETA’S anti-cru­elty cam­paign be­ing run against the

school’s mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy dog lab. The com­plaint goes on to say that the block­age cov­ers any posters who use PETA’S name or any of those words in their posts.

As EFF ‘s Civil Lib­er­ties Di­rec­tor David Greene said about the case, “Speaker-based and viewpoint-based dis­crim­i­na­tion of speech in a des­ig­nated public fo­rum like the univer­sity’s Face­book page is rarely per­mit­ted un­der the First Amend­ment. We are ask­ing a judge to de­clare that Texas A&M’S re­stric­tions against PETA on its Face­book page are un­con­sti­tu­tional and re­quire the univer­sity to re­post PETA’S con­tent on the site and stop block­ing PETA from post­ing and com­ment­ing on the site.”

EFF’S stand is not lim­ited to Face­book and only a public in­sti­tu­tion like Texas A&M. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has taken a stand that when fed­eral, state, lo­cal agen­cies and elected of­fi­cials use so­cial media like Twit­ter and Face­book to com­mu­ni­cate to the public about their pro­grams, poli­cies and even opin­ions, the First Amend­ment pre­vents those groups or peo­ple from block­ing public com­ment back in re­sponse.

There is im­por­tant and re­cent prece­dent for the EFF’S po­si­tion on this. In a case filed in the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York, the Knight First Amend­ment In­sti­tute at Columbia Univer­sity claimed seven peo­ple – the plain­tiffs in the case – had been blocked from the @re­al­don­aldtrump’s Twit­ter ac­count be­cause of con­trary opin­ions they ex­pressed in replies to Trump’s tweets. On May 23, 2018, Judge Naomi Re­ice Buch­wald ruled against Trump for block­ing those re­sponses.

In her rul­ing, Judge Buch­wald said that Trump al­ways had the choice to just ig­nore the op­pos­ing view­points posted in his Twit­ter feed. As she said in that case, “No First Amend­ment harm arises when a government’s ‘chal­lenged conduct’ is sim­ply to ig­nore the [speaker], as the Supreme Court has af­firmed ‘that it is free to do’. ” To clar­ify that fur­ther, she said that, “Stated oth­er­wise, ‘a per­son’s right to speak is not in­fringed when government sim­ply ig­nores that per­son while lis­ten­ing to oth­ers,’ or when the government‘ am­pli­fies’ the voice of one speaker over those of oth­ers.”

The Judge found against not just Trump but also the White House so­cial media di­rec­tor and as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent Daniel Scavino. She went on to ad­mon­ish them both, say­ing, “Be­cause no government of­fi­cial is above the law and be­cause all government of­fi­cials are pre­sumed to fol­low the law once the ju­di­ciary said what the law is, we must as­sume that the Pres­i­dent and Scavino will rem­edy the block­ing we have held to be un­con­sti­tu­tional.” Re­gard­ing the cur­rent case PETA filed against Texas A&M, EFF’S Greene had a very sim­i­lar mes­sage to Texas A&M and all government or­ga­ni­za­tions like theirs. “Our First Amend­ment rights are in­fringed when agen­cies and of­fi­cials block the posts they don’t like or agree with,” he said. “And the rights of all read­ers are af­fected when the government ma­nip­u­lates its so­cial media pages to make it ap­pear that its poli­cies and prac­tices are em­braced, rather than con­demned.”

Once in of­fice, government em­ploy­ees quickly forget that they are public ser­vants and that the pur­pose of government is to serve the needs of the peo­ple, not rule them. When public ser­vants be­tray the public trust they must be con­fronted and re­placed as needed.

Those who op­pose the tor­ture of dogs by Texas A&M should con­tact the tor­turer, Joe Korne­gay, by email at Jko­rne­gay@cvm.tamu.edu and by phone at 979-845-5941 or 979-458-4968, FAX 979-458-5912, and sign the Change.org pe­ti­tion by click­ing HERE.

You can also try to ex­press your thoughts and feel­ings on the mat­ter at https://www.face­book.com/tamu/.

Some peo­ple are also us­ing a tech­nique called re­mote in­flu­enc­ing on Joe Korne­gay to help him per­son­ally feel the pain and suf­fer­ing he has been need­lessly caus­ing to dogs.

A video work­shop on re­mote in­flu­enc­ing can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8edgxtcx5e

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