By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is suing to block the Kansas State Fair from forcing the group to shield fairgoers who pass by its booth from images depicting animal slaughter, saying it violates the group's free speech rights.
PETA filed a federal lawsuit Monday that names the Kansas Fair Board, the state and the fair's general manager, Denny Stoeklein, as defendants. The group also filed a motion Tuesday asking the court to block the restrictions imposed on PETA's booth for this year's fair, which starts Sept. 7.
PETA has screened a graphic new documentary, "Glass Walls," at state fairs in Colorado and Iowa. It shows animals being slaughtered and instances of animal abuse at factory farms.
Kansas fair organizers say the restrictions will still allow PETA to show graphic images, but viewers will have to consciously choose to view them and to look behind partitions shielding the images from the general public.
"I've never seen anything like this -- this is a classic content-based restriction on what the speaker can say, which I think is unconstitutional," said Doug Bonney, the legal director for the ACLU Foundation of Kansas and Western Missouri.
The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Kansas City, Mo.,-based law firm of Copilevitz & Canter, LLC, are representing PETA for free in the case.
Stoecklein did not immediately return a message left at the fair office seeking comment.
Jeff Wagaman, the deputy chief of staff for the state attorney general's office, said in statement that the state is confident that the State Fair Board's actions are legal.
"The Attorney General's Office will zealously defend the State Fair Board in this matter," Wagaman said.
PETA attorney Jeff Kerr said the group has been seeking to get fair officials to voluntarily remove the restrictions, but that PETA didn't get responses to its letters and was left with no other option than to sue.
The film, which is narrated by music legend and longtime PETA supporter Sir Paul McCartney, depicts the brutal treatment of animals at slaughterhouses and family farms. It has been shown at the Colorado and Iowa state fairs and other places, Kerr said.
"We are always going to aggressively defend our rights to speak up for animals who have no voice," Kerr said. "So whether it is this fair, or anywhere else, we are going to fight for the right to show our video and expose the cruelty of the meat industry. Most governments have been introduced to the First Amendment and wouldn't engage in this kind of conduct and we are hopeful that the Kansas State Fair will see the error of its ways."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.