The Herald Bulletin

April 18, 2013

Editorial: Petitions are a right but they must let the process work


— Americans have a right to petition anything they want. It’s in the First Amendment. Congress can’t abridge the right of the people to petition the government for a “redress of grievances.”

So Americans end up with all forms of petitions. One is now circulating online pushing numerous states, including Indiana, to secede. There’s one trying to prohibit the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway and removing litter in northern Georgia. There’s another petition against military medals for drone pilots. Petitions are easy to create using online tools through such sites as signon.org or change.org.

But Americans shouldn’t abuse that right as a way to promote vigilante justice. And that is what happened in the recent case where more than 100 dead animals and 30 live animals were found on a farm in northern Madison County. The owners of the property, Carrie and Daniel Ault, are facing an investigation by law authorities and the Madison County prosecutor’s office.

Within days of the discovery of the grisly scene, a Knightstown animal welfare proponent instigated an online petition “to urge prosecutors to press charges against the owners of this farm, and to show that animal cruelty and neglect will not be tolerated.”

It is the latest example of how social media can be used to inform while hiding behind a mask to attack people. As of this week, the petition had more than 2,000 people. That’s not signed solely by residents of Madison County. An Internet petition reaches the world, including folks who may not know Indiana laws.

The blame isn’t with understandable outrage over animal cruelty. The problem lies in a misguided attempt to force an Indiana prosecutor to charge Hoosiers with felonies based on emotional sentiment.

Prosecutor Rodney Cummings has said the petition won’t factor into his office’s decision in determining charges. Cummings, as an elected official, has to evaluate the case in light of Indiana law — not Hoosier sentiment. Madison County residents would demand he take such an approach.

Long before this current case, in days gone by, folks would rally a posse together to hunt down the bad guy. Volunteers would band together and inflict their vigilante brand of justice on the people they believed to be criminals. Nowadays, they band together through the Internet.

Instead, let a wiser approach prevail. Let Madison County’s elected prosecutor evaluate results of the investigation into the animal case.

Internet users can go online and use their constitutional right to sign petitions to redress wrongs or that show general concern about animal welfare or ones that collect donations for shelters or injured animals.

But let’s not encourage online vigilantism that seeks criminal charges against any American. Let’s leave courtroom justice to the elected officials who are entrusted with enforcing the laws.