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In a victory for real-world ethics over religious dogma in the public square, member countries of the European Union can now legally ban religious animal slaughter in which livestock are not stunned insensible beforehand.

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Tagged and fattened for market, cattle look curiously at a photographer. The European Court of Justice ruled recently that European Union states can now legally mandate that livestock be rendered senseless before slaughter. (Andreas Kretschmer, Flickr, CC By 2.0)

In December, the European Court of Justice upheld a ban on no-stun slaughter of animals in Belgium’s Flemish-speaking (Dutch speaking) region under traditional Jewish (kosher or shechita) and Muslim (helal) religious canon, despite strong objections by religious groups. Judaic and Muslim fundamentalist doctrines hold that livestock must be killed while still alive and their blood drained out before butchering.

The ruling effectively legalizes stun requirements enacted by any state throughout the European Union (EU).

A BBC News article explained the logic and intent of the ruling:

“The European Court said all member states had to reconcile both animal welfare and freedom of religion and EU law did not prevent countries from requiring the stunning of animals as long as they respected fundamental rights.

“While the Court accepted that imposing such a requirement limited the rights of Muslims and Jews, it did not ban ritual slaughter and the Belgian law’s ‘interference with the freedom to manifest religion’ met an ‘objective of general interest recognised by the European Union, namely the promotion of animal welfare’.

“It also said the Flemish parliament had relied on scientific evidence indicating that prior stunning was the best way of reducing an animal’s suffering and that the law allowed ‘a fair balance to be struck’ between animal welfare and freedom of religion.”

EU Jewish constituents were livid.

“This decision goes even further than expected and flies in the face of recent statements from the European institutions that Jewish life is to be treasured and respected,” said Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the conference of European rabbis. [emphasis mine]

Nonetheless, it is fair to question why people should be required to “treasure and respect” supernatural, which is to say invented, fantasies of religious ideology over real-world issues, such as the ethical presumption that allowing the unnecessary suffering of animals is wrong. That is far more wrong than reasonably demoting the arbitrarily assumed primacy of people’s religious sensibilities.

Yet such coddling has a long, checkered history since brutal and long-running medieval religious wars in Europe bathed the continent in blood and misery — and nations thereafter (including in the New World colonies, such as in America) tried mightily to as much as practicable respect both human and religious rights simultaneously, but most especially religious rights.

Indeed, before the European Court of Justice ruling, its advocate general recommended quashing the Belgian law because he was concerned it unduly restricted religious rights and violated the EU Charter’s freedom of religion guarantees.

Encouragingly, the Court ultimately decided that real-world ethical imperatives trumped fantasy-based religious edicts.

Prior to the recent EC high-court ruling, Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia province, Slovenia, Denmark, Sweden and Finland had already adopted more stringent slaughter laws that provide no exceptions even on religious grounds, as has the United States, but the United Kingdom, which recently detached from the Eu, allows religious exemptions.

I wrote about American slaughter laws in a 2019 post titled “No. The term ‘religious freedom’ is not a license to torture anything.” In that post, I explained:

In the U.S., however, The Humane Slaughter Act, or the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (P.L. 85-765; 7 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.), approved August 27, 1958, is designed to decrease suffering of all livestock during any slaughter. Animals must be stunned or otherwise made insensible to pain before slaughter. The act states:

“No religion is exempt and all animals due to be slaughtered must be rendered insensible beforehand.”

The bias of EU citizens against slaughtering live, conscious animals is pronounced. A study last year by U.K.-based Savanta ComRes queried 23,000 EU citizens, 89 percent of whom “stated that it should be mandatory for animals to be made unconscious before they are slaughtered,” Times Now News reported.

The difficulty various nations have encountered in trying to mandate such mercy underscores the strong undertow religion continues to exert on Western societies in the 21st century, a long-lived legacy of Christianity’s and Islam’s overarching dominance in the Middle Ages.

Yet, the truth of their belief systems is still unverified in reality.

At least some nation’s have come to the realization, albeit late, that the suffering of any creature cannot be justified or ethically accommodated by faith.


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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...