Thursday 11 January 2024

U.S. First Amendment gives staff the right to criticize a shelter publicly including on social media

Nathan Winograd, a lawyer, a very prominent animal advocate and an expert on how to run an animal shelter to minimise euthanasia, has kindly, in an email to me, reminded us that Americans have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to speak out against government policies with which they disagree including, the situation in which a rescuer and volunteer wishes to speak out and criticise the shelter where they work because they believe that the shelter didn't do enough to prevent the euthanasia of a dog at the shelter.

Of course, it could be any animal earmarked for euthanasia because the shelter might not be well run and therefore too many cats and dogs are being killed. Let's be clear about that. Euthanasia is often simply killing healthy animals. Euthanasia means the humane termination of life of a chronically and terminally sick animal. Many cats and dogs at animal shelters across the world are killed simply because nobody has adopted them and the shelter is full.

Anyway, to get back to the main topic which is the US Constitution's First Amendment. In this story, a former volunteer has filed a lawsuit against Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) in Portland, Oregon, USA for violating her constitutional rights.

She alleges in her lawsuit that the shelter management retaliated against after she had publicly aired her concerns about the shelter's plans to euthanise i.e. kill a healthy one year old poodle.

The volunteer and plaintiff in this lawsuit is Monica Klein. She alleges that the manager of the said shelter, Marian Cannell, terminated her services in July after she had posted on social media her opinion that the shelter's decision to euthanise a dog named Cloud was unnecessary because the shelter management had rebuffed her request to have a chance to find the dog (named Cloud) a suitable home.

The First Amendment most importantly protects American citizens who want to criticise US government agencies, quangos and any other US government organisations. This is been made clear by the US Supreme Court which has consistently ruled that, "speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection".

The First Amendment prohibits shelter management from forcing employees and volunteers to sign a nondisclosure agreement which prevents them from criticising the shelter publicly. The first amendment also prevents shelter staff from deleting comments online and social media platforms from banning commenters.

The shelter concerned, MCAS, according to Nathan Winograd, is "no stranger to illegal and abusive conduct thanks to years of mismanagement at the hands of managers and elected officials indifferent to animal suffering."


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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