Illinois appeals court rejects challenge to state’s hunter-harassment law

Thursday, July 15, 1999

An Illinois law prohibiting interference with hunters does not violate the First Amendment rights of anti-hunting activists, a state appeals court has ruled.

The state's Hunter Interference Prohibition Act provides that it is a misdemeanor to

  • Interfere with hunters while they are hunting.
  • Disturb or engage in activity that intends “to disturb wild animals.”
  • Enter or remain on public lands without permission of the owner with the intent to bother hunters.

In 1996, the Woodstock Hunt Club sued in state court, asking a judge to order members of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition to stop violating the hunter-harassment law. The hunt club argued that the animal-rights activists were using various noise-making devices to scare geese away from the hunting club.

The animal-rights activists claimed the law violated their First Amendment free-expression rights to advocate their anti-hunting views.

In 1996, a trial court sided with the hunting club and granted an injunction. The next year, the Illinois appeals court agreed in Woodstock Hunt Club v. Hindi.

However, the Illinois Supreme Court, in another case, ruled in 1998 that one section of the hunter-harassment law was unconstitutional. That section prohibited the disturbing of hunters “with [the] intent to dissuade” them from hunting

The state high court objected to the “intent to dissuade” language, writing: “Subjecting to criminal liability expression which is made with an intent to dissuade, while failing to threaten punishment for expressions intended to encourage or persuade, constitutes an illegal legislative censure of opinion.”

However, the high court severed the unconstitutional part of the statute, leaving the remainder of the law intact.

After the Illinois Supreme Court ruling, the animal-rights activists petitioned the trial court to dissolve the injunction. The trial judge refused and, on appeal, the Illinois appeals court agreed in its July 9 opinion.

The appeals court reasoned that all of the other sections of the law were “content-neutral and constitutional.”

The court found that the provisions of the law serve a significant government interest in safety by preventing disturbances when guns are loaded and fired. The court also noted that “anti-hunting advocates retain the ability to express their views at numerous other times and places and in numerous other manners.”

Matthew Litvak, attorney for the hunting club, said: “The defendants had no desire to communicate ideas. Their only intent was to create disturbances to disrupt lawful activities. It is somewhat disingenuous for them to hide behind the First Amendment.”

The attorney for the animal-rights activists could not be reached for comment.