People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is many things to many people. PETA’s President, Ingrid Newkirk, calls her group “complete press sluts.” After all, PETA did send out 10 press releases yesterday. Others might see PETA as an organization for the manifestly weird — people who oppose seeing eye dogs and testing life-saving drugs on mice. But few consider PETA an organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment or the rights of Native Americans. Yet we have before us the unusual spectacle of PETA declaring that its programs do exactly that.
In recent weeks, PETA has offered two amusing explanations for its support of arsonists like Rodney Coronado. “PETA will help when we feel it is appropriate to defend the rights of people who are trying to speak out in [sic] behalf of animals,” notes PETA’s general council, by way of defending the group’s contributions to Coronado. “We stand very much behind the constitutional rights people have — the right to Freedom of Speech.” And the right to burn down research labs, it seems.
“PETA also paid to defend a Native American who broke into a college library to steal a tribal diary that had been looted from the tribe by Gen. George Custer,” reports The New York Post. True, Rodney Coronado did that also. But one suspects that the $70,400 PETA gave him had something to do with his other activities.
PETA claims in its fundraising that “your donation will go to work instantly to help animals.” A reasonable person might wonder how protecting the First Amendment, or Native American vestiges, or Rodney Coronado’s hide, instantly helps animals. Perhaps PETA’s biblical scholar in residence, the hapless Bruce Friedrich, might be able to squeeze water out of that rock. But we doubt it.
Which brings us to a recent Supreme Court decision ruling that the First Amendment does not protect nonprofit organizations (yes, you can write off your donations to the terrorist-supporting PETA, and the government may even match your contributions) from misleading the public about where their donations will go. According to The Washington Post: “States may maintain fraud actions when fundraisers make false or misleading representations designed to deceive donors about how their donations will be used.”
The Supreme Court’s case was limited to telemarketers making false claims about the proportion of donated funds that are devoted to program activities, so we’re not holding our breath for a fraud case against PETA. But isn’t there some enterprising lawyer out there who’s willing to give it a try? After all, the Supreme Court also recently decided that cross burning is not protected by the First Amendment. Surely laboratory burning wouldn’t receive First Amendment protection either.