Does the First Amendment Protect Dog Snuff Films?

05/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's only one disgusting degree removed from animal cruelty and torture itself -- someone getting away with claiming First Amendment protections for making a living by selling videos of animal cruelty and torture.

The Supreme Court will hear the case of a man appealing his conviction for selling videos of pit bulls fighting. A federal appeals court had agreed with him that while the dogfighting is illegal, selling pictures of it is not.

So go ahead, everybody. Switch on the DVD. Wow, dogs ripping the jaw off a terrified pig -- that's entertainment! (And that's in one of the videos this man sold.) Animal cruelty is illegal in every state in this country. It is a crime, plain and simple. To make money off a crime is to compound the crime. That's one of the many good reasons that child pornography is illegal.

So to declare these DVDs can be sold and distributed even though the acts they show are completely against the law -- you might as well do the same for human ''snuff'' films depicting murders, because that's all that these are. Snuff films of animals.

But we're expected to believe, "It isn't murder, your honor -- it's free speech!"

Congress has already outlawed at least some of this reprehensible trade. It passed a law 10 years ago -- a law sponsored by a California Republican congressman named Elton Gallegly -- to ban the sale of cruelty videos like the blood-porn ones showing women wearing spike heels impaling and crushing little animals to death with their stilettos.

So 10 years later, this is a free speech issue?

If the justices find that videos of these cruelty crimes are legal, even though the acts themselves are not, they will be winking at, even encouraging, what should be accurately and monstrously the cruelty entertainment industry -- all the dogfighting, the ''crush videos,'' the ripping and disemboweling of living animals, the unspeakable acts of torture and abuse.

Who cares whether it's illegal to stage these horrors, as long as it's legal to film them? Selling DVDs and images of animal torture, making money on websites showing this vileness, will only encourage more cruelty and violence.

Because, after all, business is business. The bail, the fines, the defense lawyers and the court costs for staging the illegal violence can simply be paid for by the profits from the ''free speech'' entertainment sales. Merely a cost of doing business. And the real cost is borne by the creatures. Welcome to Corporate Cruelty America Inc.

There is a vicious and pernicious lobby out there that's eager to conflate any opposition to animal cruelty as an assault on hunting. In public service announcements for the Humane Society, Rush Limbaugh -- and I cheer him to the rafters for this-- spoke out against dog-fighting, and praised the ''faithful stewardship of animals.'' Naturally, a couple of dozen self-styled hunters' rights groups have denounced Limbaugh for supposedly aiding ''the number one opponent of sportsmen in America today.'' Funny, none of the copies of ''Field & Stream''at my parents' house ever said anything about hunting and field-dressing Jack Russells. Maybe they let their subscription lapse before that issue.

This case isn't about the classic First Amendment conundrum of protecting hateful speech. It's about trying to pervert the First Amendment as a shield for murder, for a ''business'' built on the pain and terror and death of blameless and defenseless creatures.