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July 22, 2013: Ritual slaughter, animal rights, and religion

Originally posted on this blog.

The Polish parliament recently rejected a proposal to reinstate ritual slaughter (of the Jewish and Muslim variety) after the practice was banned from the beginning of 2013 because it was deemed to be in conflict with existing Polish animal welfare/cruelty laws. The arguments of supporters of ritual slaughter can mostly be divided into 2 categories: economics (the claim that money and jobs will be lost as a result of the ban) and religion (itís important to guarantee religious freedom). The economic argument is a bit moot for all people who have attained a higher level of consciousness regarding animal suffering. For us, ethics trumps economics, so something that causes unnecessary suffering should be banned, no matter what the economic effect. Still, there have been several studies done that have concluded that from an economic point of view, the ban will not make that big an impact on the meat industry in Poland. But what about guaranteeing someone the freedom of religion? Isnít this vital for a modern, democratic state?

The quick answer to this is yes, but within limits. Every society has a set of values that it tries to uphold. Any change in the constitution of a country has to go through certain steps to ensure that the new law does not go against these values. Freedom of religion is an important right, but Poland has decided that anti-cruelty laws trump certain aspects of that religious freedom, and rightfully so. Any law that prohibits cruelty should take precedence over a law that allows it, no matter how important the latter might be to a religion, any religion. Some opponents of the ban have even stated that the rejection of the proposal reeks of anti-semitism, islamophobia and a general xenophobia prevalent in Poland. Yes, one can still see cases of anti-semitism in Poland, but this is changing for the better. Poland is slowly opening up to other cultures. That said, the rejection of ritual slaughter has nothing to do with either anti-semitism or islamophobia. It is simply a decision that an ethical treatment of other animals (countless organizations around the world have deemed slaughter without stunning as inhumane) is more important than allowing such acts for religious purposes.

I value freedom of choice. But what I value even more is the elimination of unnecessary cruelty in the world. If this was a ban on wearing green hats instead of black hats, Iíd be against it. But itís not Ė itís a ban on cruel killing methods. A lot of people have a hard time accepting this because weíre talking about animals. This would not even be an issue if someone proposed a law allowing for the marriage of 13 year old girls (as is common in some cultures), or the allowance of forced female circumcision (also common in some cultures), etc. These types of proposals would immediately be struck down because everyone would agree that they go against the values of our society. Since animals are involved, however, the issue has been opened to debate. This is because, sadly, the majority of people still view animals as lesser creatures to be abused and killed in whatever way we like. Small steps, like the rejection of the ritual slaughter proposal, however, give me hope that a move away from this way of thinking is indeed possible; that, as a society, we can institute laws that attempt to minimize the suffering of sentient beings.

Effaism has always been about fairness, whether itís fairness to other people, or fairness in our relationship with the rest of the animal world. We do not support any kind of ritualistic practices that cause unnecessary animal suffering and welcome any move to limit or ban such practices. In our opinion, the ritual slaughter of animals by cutting their throat is archaic and barbaric, and should be banned. While we support religious freedom to the fullest, we believe that modern societies, in order to progress, have to leave behind such practices, no matter how ingrained they are in culture, tradition, or religion.

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