A proposed ban on coyote-hunting contests in Oregon pits ranchers against environmentalists, but the language in the bill makes it unconstitutional thanks to a court ruling that protects strip clubs and adult video stores. At least, that’s how opponents to the proposed hunting ban plan to fight the law.
The controversy was initiated earlier this year when an undercover video from the Humane Society for the United States showed hunters at a competition in Burns, Ore., collecting the carcasses of dozens of dead coyotes. That encouraged Sens. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) to sponsor Senate Bill 723, which would outlaw "organizing, sponsoring, promoting, conducting or participating in contest, competition, tournament or derby that has objective of taking wildlife for prizes or other inducement or for entertainment."
The last clause in the description is key – entertainment. The Oregon Hunters Association argues that SB 723 violates its members' First Amendment rights.
"Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't mean it can be prohibited," association legislative chairman Paul Donheffner told Willamette Week news.
The legal argument is that the bill doesn’t ban coyote hunting, or limit it. The proposal merely outlaws contests for entertainment. And Oregon's free speech laws offer broad protection for entertainment—thanks to a court ruling that protects strip clubs and adult video stores.
In 1987, Oregon’s Supreme Court ruled, in State v. Henry, that under the state’s constitution state law could not criminalize forms of entertainment deemed socially unacceptable. That ruling enshrined legal protections for nudity at strip clubs in Oregon.
A Portland lawyer told Willamette Week, "Oregon's constitution limits what the government can regulate. The broad language has been interpreted to mean things people find unsavory. That's why you can have a porn shop across the street from an elementary school."