An animal rights organization is suing a state legislator for defamation of character after he termed them "terrorists" and suggested they might resort to violence.
SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) filed suit in 3rd District Court Monday alleging that State Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, falsely accused the group of being terrorists and prone to violence.
"Since early January, he has repeatedly made false statements against SHARK," said Brian Barnard, the organization's attorney. "SHARK is an organization that actively fights against animal abuse, and its reputation and credibility are crucial. If its credibility is harmed, that hurts its ability to get donations."
The Illinois-based non-profit group is suing for unspecified damages.
Ray was unavailable for comment Monday.
SHARK founder and president Steve Hindi said the group is non-violent and performs two functions: documenting animal abuse and distributing information. "I've told police repeatedly if I knew someone was going to be violent, I would turn them in," Hindi said at a Monday press conference.
Ray wrote a letter Jan. 3 to Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney calling animal rights groups "terrorists" and asking that Romney not to negotiate with them regarding an Olympic-related rodeo set Feb. 9-11 at the Davis County Fairpark in Farmington.
"The rodeo is a very important piece of our culture here in Utah and should not be on the table for negotiations," Ray said in his letter. "We cannot allow terrorist groups such as SHARK and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to frighten us with threats of violence."
Animal rights groups have urged SLOC not to hold the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo, which is part of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad, because they contend the animals are treated cruelly.
At Monday's press conference, SHARK volunteer Colleen Gardner showed an excerpt from a Feb. 3 Channel 2 show titled "Take Two" with TV host Rod Decker in which Ray does not differentiate among animal rights groups and states that "animal rights guys are terrorists."
Ray states on the videotape that he has no objection to peaceful protests but that animal rights groups terrorize people economically and engage in such violent activities as firebombing mink ranches. "I called a duck a duck. SHARK is a terrorist organization," Ray says on the tape.
Hindi said he would commend Romney if the Olympic-related rodeo eliminated certain activities Hindi considers most egregious such as calf roping, steer roping and steer wrestling, even though he still does not favor rodeos in general.
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