Denmark Bans Kosher and Halal Slaughter – “Animal Welfare Must Come Before Religion”

April 11th, 2014

I’ve blogged before (here, here, and here) about European countries that have laws requiring that animals be stunned prior to slaughter–this effectively bans ritual Kosher and Halal Slaughters. Now add Denmark to that list, along with Sweden, Norway, and Poland. Also the law may be coming soon to the Netherlands, and maybe even the U.K.

In Denmark, animal welfare trumps religious liberty.

In a conflict that pits animal welfare against religious rights, Denmark has ordered that all food animals must be stunned before being killed. The move effectively bans the ritual slaughter methods prescribed in both Muslim and Jewish tradition. …

For biologist and animal welfare activist Peter Mollerup, the slaughter issue is pretty straightforward.

“Danish legislation tells us that if you want to kill an animal, you should do it as quick and painless [as] possible,” says Mollerup. And that simply can’t be done if the animal is conscious when it’s killed. For him, even if the difference between life and death is a matter of a few extra seconds, animal welfare must come before religion.

“I have [deep] respect for those people and their way to think about God, but it must not hurt any living creature,” he says.

There you have it. In Denmark, “animal welfare must come before religion.” I’m sure many in this country would agree (one of my students told me so  when we discussed this issue).

A Dutch Rabbi commented on the secular nature of Europe, and how religion is falling out of the scope of public debate.

As Europe grows more secular, says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenhagen, “religious tradition” is no longer a valid argument for much of anything, he says.

Benyones Essabar with the group Danish Halal agrees.

“Religion itself in Europe doesn’t play the big role … it does in other countries. So every time we speak about something that [has] to do with religion,” he says, “it will always be looked at as something from medieval times, and something that doesn’t have any scientific place in our modern days.”

This is an unavoidable consequence of a secularized society–and something that has been on my mind of late in light of Hobby Lobby, Elane Photography, and same-sex marriage. All three issues present an unavoidable clash between religion, and another state interest. It’s little surprise that Justice Alito, on a similar wavelength, even posed the Kosher hypothetical during Hobby Lobby oral arguments.

The sentiment today, among many, is that a belief grounded in religion that impacts others, what some may call moral disapproval, is truly born out of animus, and cannot be a legitimate state interest. Look no further than Firefox. Opposing same-sex marriage, even out of religious beliefs, makes one a bigot, unworthy of being the CEO of a company.

The Windsor Court made explicit what was implicit in Romer and Lawrence. Moral disapproval is not a rational basis. If this principle is taken to its logical conclusion, to paraphrase one author, why tolerate religion? In Europe, it’s not tolerated. The rights of animals trump the religious liberties of an ancient faith. And no one seems upset by it.

In fact, in Denmark, the entire framework is flipped. The burden is on Jews and Muslims (odd bed fellows, no?) to prove that kosher ritual slaughter is humane.

Jews and Muslims, meanwhile, argue that there is evidence to suggest that, if done correctly, ritual slaughter can be just as humane as conventional slaughter. The Danish minister for agriculture has invited local religious leaders to submit that proof, which they promised to do.

Isn’t that odd. Rather than determining if this law imposes a substantial burden on religious practice, Denmark requires those of faith to show that their slaughter does not impose a substantial burden on the animals. Reversed priorities are a reflection of the lack of promotion of religion as a compelling state interest.

Would requiring Jews to import kosher meet from abroad impose a substantial burden?

On a practical level, the rule doesn’t change much for Denmark’s Jews and Muslims. The last Danish slaughterhouse willing to forgo stunning before slaughter shut down in 2004. Since then, Denmark’s estimated 8,000 Jews have imported all kosher meat.

I fear that the progressive othering of religion may have a serious blowback in our country, which though trending towards seculariation, has deep, deep pockets of religosity. Hobby Lobby is about so much more than contraceptive (see here, here, here, and here)