Monday, April 11, 2011
Over at the new Catholic Moral Theology Blog, Charlie Camosy has an interesting post on the debate in the Netherlands over whether to prohibit kosher and halal methods of animal slaughter, an issue to which Marc pointed us a few days ago. (Jerusalem Post story about the reaction of the European Jewish community here.)
I should confess at the outset (and I suspect Charlie will disagree here) that I don’t hold the view that non-human animals have moral “rights,” at least as that claim is usually understood, nor do I believe that vegetarianism is morally obligatory. That does not, of course, entail that I hold that animals may be treated wantonly or cruelly. Aquinas was quite correct, I think, to say (following Maimonides) that the method of kosher slaughter may have been chosen to prevent cruelty to animals and, in turn, that cruelty is a vice opposed to temperance, but not justice (I-II, 103.3 ad 6; 103.6 ad 1; II-II, 159). As an aside, it seems to me that those who would want to affirm heightened moral standing to animals are better served by Christine Korsgaard’s ongoing project to give a broadly Kantian account of our duties toward some animals (based in the kind of being they are) in, for example, her 2004 Tanner Lectures at Michigan than by the usual utilitarian arguments. See also Brian Leiter’s comments here.
What does concern me is the alacrity with which some, perhaps a majority, in the Netherlands appear willing to throw the religious freedom of observant Dutch Jews and Muslims under the bus. Charlie quotes Party for the Animals leader Marianne Thieme that “religious freedom isn’t unlimited,” but that isn’t the point. One needn’t have the view that religious freedom is “unlimited” (who does?) to think that a discriminatory prohibition against religiously required methods of animal slaughter is an affront to religious freedom. One could imagine how a blanket prohibition on certain forms of animal killing with the object of preventing animal cruelty could be neutral and generally applicable (to use the formulation from US constitutional law) and not based in religious discrimination. But, as Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah makes clear, it would be difficult to draft such a prohibition without raising concerns about invidious religious discrimination because the terms of such a prohibition will often be underinclusive with respect to the putative government objective. Easier, then, just to single out particular forms of animal slaughter that are based on the beliefs of disfavored religious minorities. The record in Lukumi and, so it seems, in the pending Dutch legislation are replete with examples of such religious animosity. And while US constitutional law is not directly relevant to the Dutch debate, religious freedom is a human right and, in this respect at least, US law has developed a set of helpful doctrinal categories and distinctions.
Finally—and this is a small point—I’m not at all sure that Psalm 51 can be interpreted, as Charlie does, as a “shift in Jewish understanding of right relationship with God and non-human animals.” The text strikes me more as a lamentation over God’s impatience with manipulative and formalistic ritual amid faithlessness and a lack of righteousness (and then, in the Christian tradition, echoed in the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus) than anything to do with the treatment of animals.