Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed UC-backed legislation into law this weekend, tacking several provisions designed to shield researchers from anti-science violence onto existing state statute.
Assembly Bill 2296, the Researcher Protection Act of 2008, arose from a series of extreme acts of anti-animal research against UC employees. Recent incidents include the fire bombing of two UC Santa Cruz faculty members’ homes, over 20 reports of animal rights-related vandalism inflicted on UC Berkeley researchers’ homes and an ongoing FBI investigation into a strand of highly threatening emails received by UC Berkeley researchers.
The newly ratified legislation takes effect immediately and enacts several new misdemeanor laws to legally shield scientific researchers from further intimidation and violence. The law specifically bans publications describing researchers’ appearances or residences, and legally bars individuals from entering a researcher’s home with the intent to commit a crime.
UC President Mark G. Yudof said the provisions will effectively protect researchers from future attacks and ensure the progress of scientific research.
“University of California researchers are leaders in scientific and technological breakthroughs that are enhancing the lives of Californians and all Americans,” Yudof said in a press release. “This law will provide law enforcement with some of the tools necessary to help protect academic researchers so they can continue to perform ground-breaking research without the threat of violence.”
However, Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation, said the UC paints animal testing as essential to scientific developments and embellishes the importance of inhumane and unproductive procedures.
“The University likes to make it seem like all scientific progress will come to a halt if animal testing is restricted,” Vlasak said. “That simply is not the case. Anti-animal testing protesters have been primarily challenging the use of primates, such as the UC using BOTOX to paralyze primate’s eye muscles and gluing metal coils to their corneas to study eye movements. They have been doing this study for 20 years and it has done nothing to help humans.”
According to the UC, the law will successfully strengthen law enforcement tools and aid in the prosecution process without jeopardizing lawful expressions of free speech. However, the provision criminalizes any speech designed to threaten or intimidate academic researchers, thereby restricting the speaker’s First Amendment rights.
Vlasak said the UC’s pursuit of legislation was born out of an inability to successfully prosecute responsible parties and resulted in a broad infringement of constitutional rights.
“The law arose out of [the] frustration of law enforcement unable to locate individuals behind [illegal] anti-research acts – when they can’t locate the people responsible, they target legal, above ground organizations,” Vlasak said. “The government has become the terminator of civil liberties and it is easy for the courts to interrupt this law any way they want.”
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, said his organization routinely posts information about animal research as well as researcher’s contact information at their resident university – information he believes should be accessible to the public.
“We certainly believe people have a right to express their opinion about animal testing,” Budkie said. “Since researchers are using public funds, this information should be available to the general public. People have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”
According to SAEN, the UC system holds over 5,000 primates, primarily at laboratories connected to UC Davis, UC San Francisco and UC Los Angeles. Many experiments are highly invasive and painful, SAEN asserts, and involve procedures like water deprivation, exposure to infectious diseases and the bolting of devices to the skull.
The organization claims that the University is utilizing the new legislation as a vehicle to eliminate access to public records related to animal experimentation and to make certain kinds of protests illegal.
Budkie said that while the law claims to target illegal activity, in actuality the legislation is an attempt to shut out all forms of opposition.
“The intent of the law is to curtail any anti-animal research activity and I’m afraid people won’t understand the law and will misinterpret it as outlawing all forms of protest or contact with a researchers,” Budkie said.