As rodeo kicks off, animal-rights activists arrive
New law frees up those protesting 60th annual event.

By Mary F. Albert | Staff Writer
Published on Friday, October 29, 2004

DALY CITY -- When the Grand National Rodeo kicks off its 60th annual show at the Cow Palace this weekend, Alfredo Kuba will mount his "animal liberation mobile" in preparation for another year of animal rights campaigning.

Only this year, when Kuba and fellow activists try to persuade Cow Palace patrons that rodeos are a cruel form of entertainment, they will be free to traverse the parking lot, chat with patrons and leaflet passersby.

It was not always this way, said Kuba, who founded the nonprofit organization Silicon Valley in Defense of Animals.

In years past, police confined him and others to small "free speech" zones up to 265 feet from the arena's entrance, manhandled them if they overstepped zone boundaries while trying to leaflet people, and even arrested them in some cases.

Twelve years and several arrests later, Kuba said he got tired of the "chilling effect" such intimidation had on what he believes to be his constitutional right to free speech.

In 2001, he filed suit against 1-A Agricultural Association, the governmental body created by California to organize fairs such as the rodeo.

Initially, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton upheld the Cow Palace's decision to confine activists, citing event organizers' concerns that the activists could disrupt traffic or threaten the safety of patrons if allowed to maneuver freely.

But less than two weeks ago, on Oct. 19, a three-judge panel of 9th Circuit judges overruled her decision, explaining that defendants did not adequately show how a small group of demonstrators normally numbering less than 15 and carrying signs posed a threat to patrons.

Today, activists hail the panel's decision as a victory for free speech.

The decision, said Deniv Bolbol of Citizens for Cruelty-Free Entertainment, "reinforces that the Constitution is still alive despite corporate interests."

Whether the panel's decision sets a precedent that will protect other activists throughout the state has yet to be seen, agree First Amendment specialists.

"I know from first-hand knowledge that animal rights activists have their rights infringed on constantly," said attorney Baron Miller, who has litigated numerous First Amendment cases.

One of the fundamental problems with this area of the law is that case law remains "remarkably unclear," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

Kuba and others plan to hand out leaflets on Friday, Saturday and Nov. 7, when the rodeo ends.

Source: San Francisco Examiner