SALT LAKE CITY -- An animal-rights group planning to protest mink farming in Morgan has filed suit claiming the Utah Department of Transportation's permit process tramples their right to free speech.
UDOT is requiring the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement to buy a $1 million liability insurance policy and pay for an off-duty highway patrol trooper to act as security at its planned Nov. 28 protest in Morgan.
"Free speech is supposed to be free," Colleen Hatfield, SLAAM director, said in a news release.
"When UDOT or any other government agency fixes a price tag on the right to assemble in a public forum, they inevitably exclude voices from the marketplace of ideas and deny people rights guaranteed them in the Constitution."
UDOT's Division 1 office in Ogden is evaluating SLAAM's permit request for the protest planned on a state road in Morgan city. Vic Saunders, UDOT spokesman, said the insurance and security are required for all such special event permits.
"It's the same for marathons or St. Patrick's Day parades," he said. "We have to indemnify Utah's taxpayers if there are injuries during an event. The concern is that all participants are safe."
Saunders estimated the one-day insurance policy costs about $275, and groups typically have to pay an off-duty trooper's time at the event.
UHP doesn't have the resources to take a trooper off the road to assign to such gatherings, he said.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by veteran Salt Lake civil rights attorney Brian Barnard with a $350 filing fee, seeks an injunction against the requirement for both the insurance and the trooper's salary.
The suit is pending before U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups. No hearing date has been set.
"SLAAM wants to shed light on the unspeakable and unnecessary animal suffering that is so commonplace on mink farms," SLAAM member Jeremy Beckham said in the news release.
"We will defend our rights to speak out on behalf of abused animals in Morgan even if that means we have to take the fight to the courtroom."
Saunders said the lawsuit is premature because UDOT is still evaluating the permit, even considering a hardship exception and waiving the insurance requirement.
"The permit should be resolved in a couple of days," he said.
But the lawsuit claims SLAAM was told Oct. 12 by Tommy Vigil, a permit supervisor in the District 1 office, that the insurance would not be waived.
The suit names UDOT, Vigil and another permit officer who works under Vigil, Rodger Jay Genereux, as defendants.
"With 15 operating fur farms, Morgan County has more fur farms than any other county in the U.S.," reads the animal-rights groups' news release.
Mink are raised in shoebox-sized cages and killed by anal electrocution or suffocation to avoid damage to pelts, the group claims.
The group pointed to last year's release of thousands of mink from Kaysville and South Jordan farms by other animal-rights advocates.
"Although many of the mink were recaptured, many that are descendants from the liberation have been spotted recently in Kaysville."
SLAAM has established a Web site at FurFreeUtah.com outlining plans for the Morgan protest.