The European Union likes to pose as the avatar of tolerance, freedom and all civilized values. Now it has ripped off its own disguise to reveal something rather more ugly.
Its highest judicial body, the European Court of Justice, has issued a ruling upholding the ban on kosher and halal ritual slaughter in two regions of Belgium. The ruling supports the requirement that animals being slaughtered should first be stunned, a practice forbidden in both Judaism and Islam.
At present, European regulations ban slaughtering animals without pre-stunning, though exceptions to this have been permitted for religious slaughter.
Some European countries, however, have forbidden such exceptions and thus banned kosher and halal slaughtering practices. These countries include Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia.
Two regions in Belgium—Flanders and Wallonia—imposed a similar ban in 2017. Belgian Jews and Muslims challenged this, and the ruling by the European court has now provided its unpalatable response.
Bad enough that individual countries have been sliding down this path. Such a ruling by the E.U.’s highest court, however, is far worse. Not only may it prompt more countries to follow suit, but it also sends out a devastating cultural signal.
This is that the core principle of Western modernity, that minority groups can freely practice their religious precepts in a private sphere within which they pose no threat to the majority, has now been junked in Europe.
Why didn’t the court insist on equivalent prior stunning of animals hunted, trapped or shot for sport or other supposed community benefits?
This danger was realized even by the Advocate-General who gave his opinion in the case, Gerard Hogan. In September, Hogan advised that E.U. member states “are obliged to respect the deeply held religious beliefs of adherents to the Muslim and Jewish faiths by allowing for the ritual slaughter of animals,” and that requiring stunning in the slaughter process “would compromise the essence of the religious guarantees” the E.U. provides.
Yet the court has brushed aside the Advocate-General’s warning, instead claiming that it had struck “a fair balance” between animal welfare and religious freedom.
But its ruling does nothing of the kind. It is illiberal and oppressive; it upholds neither animal welfare nor religious freedom; and its arguments are not just meretricious but fail even by their own internal logic.
It first acknowledges that pre-slaughter stunning “entails a limitation” on the rights of Jews and Muslims to the freedom to manifest their religion.
It then says, however, that the law actually permits interference with that freedom. How so? Through a piece of linguistic gobbledygook that misrepresents the religious precept itself.
Thus it states that stunning is “limited to one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter, and that act of slaughter is not, by contrast, prohibited as such.”
This takes sophistry to a high level indeed. Both Judaism and Islam require animals to “be intact and healthy at the time of slaughter” for meat to be kosher or halal.
Stunning an animal by firing a captive bolt into its head or by electric shock may harm its brain. The animal may thus become damaged and forbidden to eat. The prohibition against stunning is therefore a crucial element in the religious rituals of kosher and halal slaughter.
So the way the court claims to be respecting freedom of religious practice is by taking it upon itself to redefine that practice in a way those religions reject. It seeks to prohibit a core religious precept, requiring Jews and Muslims instead to adopt a practice forbidden to them under religious law. It then seeks to sanitize this intolerant move by claiming it is not forbidden to Jews and Muslims because the court has redefined that law.
This oppressive maneuver is supposedly motivated by concern for animal welfare. Yet the court unravels this, too, through its own lack of consistency or logic.
After all, why didn’t it insist on equivalent prior stunning of animals that are hunted, trapped or shot for sport or other supposed community benefits?
The court’s response to this point was laughable. In those kinds of activities, it said, “compliance with animal-welfare requirements would adversely affect the very nature of the event concerned.”
The fact that requiring animals to be stunned before slaughter would “adversely affect the very nature of the event concerned” for Jews and Muslims is obviously of no account—because, in Orwellian fashion, the court has redefined the very nature of that event.
Hunting, fishing or other cultural and sporting events that involve the killing of animals “result at most in a marginal production of meat which is not economically significant,” the court said. “Consequently, such events cannot reasonably be understood as a food-production activity, which justifies their being treated differently from slaughtering.”
Why? What difference does “marginal production” make if the principal concern is for the welfare of the animal? Quite obviously, none at all.
“Those activities,” stated the ruling, “take place in a context where conditions for killing are very different from those employed for farmed animals.”
Well, indeed, but not in the way the court meant. The stag suffering painfully from a bullet wound, the mink dying of its injuries in a trap or the fox torn to pieces by a pack of hounds all meet a far more cruel death than does the animal slaughtered according to the rites of kashrut and halal.
It’s essential to those rites that the animal is killed in the most humane way possible. As a result, it has its throat slit with a sharp knife, which causes virtually instant unconsciousness and death.
The idea that stunning is humane is risible. It’s often ineffective, causing the animal to be subjected to this assault more than once before it eventually loses consciousness. And even with prior stunning, meat processing plants in Europe are often inhumane places where livestock are factory farmed, pumped full of chemicals and industrially killed.
So if the requirement for stunning actually has little to do with animal welfare, what’s the real driving force behind it?
This argument over ritual slaughter has gone on in Europe for many years. At its base, it reflects the priority over humans that’s now given to animals with a corresponding rise in ignorance, sentimentality and hypocrisy over their welfare.
That moral confusion is one of the outcomes of the prevailing dogma of universalism, which has caused much of Europe increasingly to reject the precepts of the Hebrew Bible. That in turn accounts for the secularism and hostility to religion upon which the E.U. itself is based.
The E.U. prides itself on the core Enlightenment values of liberalism and tolerance. Those values, however, emerged from British thinkers whose values were framed by the Bible.
In continental Europe, by contrast, the Enlightenment was fueled by a vicious hatred of religion and the belief that reason could only be advanced if religion was suppressed.
It is that European strain of universalist Enlightenment thinking that forms the values of the European Union. It has also given rise to the West’s predominant ideology of moral and cultural relativism, which has propelled the rise of paganism and the veneration of the animal and natural world at the expense of humanity. And that now has Jewish and Muslim religious practices squarely in its sights.
At the start of 2020, Europeans joined other nations of the world in marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, vowing “never again.”
At the end of this horrible year, the custodians of the European Jewish graveyard have instead demonstrated all too bleakly just what they think that means for the values of freedom and tolerance so many have given their lives to defend.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.