Almost 18 months ago, I shared the news: Floating Horse Teeth Goes on Trial in Missouri. Admittedly one of the strangest headlines I’ve ever written, the story had to do with Brooke Gray’s desire to continue practicing her profession of caring for horse teeth (i.e., “floating horse teeth”) in the state of Missouri. Yesterday, I learned from the folks at the Freedom Center of Missouri that Gray appears to have lost her right to practice her profession in the Show-Me State.
In early January 2012, the Clinton County Circuit Court in Plattsburg, Mo., ruled that it can and will enforce a state law that forbids any non-veterinarian to accept payment for providing basic animal husbandry services. The judgment allowed Gray, a young woman with eight years’ training and experience at removing sharp enamel points from horses’ teeth, to continue assisting Missouri’s animal owners—but if she gets paid for her efforts, she will be fined and possibly sent to jail. The Freedom Center of Missouri, which represents Gray, had argued that the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions protect a citizen’s right to earn a living providing basic animal husbandry services.
Now, fast forward to present. According to the Center‘s Dave Roland, the Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state can make it a criminal offense for non-veterinarians to provide basic animal husbandry services to Missouri’s livestock owners.
Noting that the Missouri Veterinary Medical Board had threatened criminal prosecution against a wide range of animal husbandry workers, including those engaged in such common, basic tasks as castrating or dehorning cattle, Roland explained, the court ruled the government may impose criminal penalties if these non-veterinarian workers are paid for their labor, despite long-recognized constitutional rights to earn a living in a common occupation and to enjoy the gains of one’s industry.
The decision came despite the fact that non-veterinarians have performed this task for hundreds of years in order to improve horses’ comfort and ability to perform for their owners.
“The court’s ruling effectively strips the right to enjoy the gains of your own industry clean out of the Missouri Constitution,” Roland said. “What good is a constitutional right if the government can simply declare that it no longer applies?”
Gray was baffled by the court’s decision.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” she said. “I’m helping horses and horse owners, not hurting them. The court seemed to confirm that literally anyone is lawfully permitted to do this kind of work and that it is the sort of ‘industry’ addressed in the Missouri Constitution. So why is it a criminal offense if a grateful horse owner pays me for doing that work? It just doesn’t make sense.”
The appellate opinion also stated that while the work itself might be legal, it would be illegal for Gray to tell anyone else about her skills – despite the fact that this issue was not raised as part of the appeal. The trial court had concluded that the government was not seeking to prevent Gray from sharing any information about her knowledge and ability, and the trial court expressly declined to include any such prohibition in its injunction.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that the government has no power to prevent citizens from sharing truthful information,” Roland explained. “Brooke is very good at what she does and she has every right to tell other people about it, especially when the work that she’s talking about is perfectly legal.”
The Freedom Center of Missouri intends to seek further judicial review of Gray’s case.
“Missouri is home to thousands of workers who have for decades safely and affordably helped farmers and ranchers manage their livestock,” Roland said. “Their services are essential to this state’s animal agriculture industry and both our state and federal constitutions guarantee these folks the right to get paid for their work. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that those constitutional guarantees have real meaning.”