Ban on Religious Animal Slaughter Fought at EU High Court

Belgium has joined Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia in not allowing for any religious exemptions to EU slaughter regulations.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. (Courthouse News photo/Molly Quell)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Religious groups argued their case against a Belgian law banning ritual animal slaughter before the European Union’s highest court on Wednesday, while Belgium denied the law infringes on religious freedom.  

The law, which requires that animals be stunned before being killed, effectively bans Jewish and Islamic slaughter practices and has created unlikely allies. Jews and Muslims argued together before the European Court of Justice that the law violates freedom of religion, while far-right politicians and animal welfare groups on the other side said Belgium is protecting animals.

“The measure is applied neutrally and thus does not constitute a violation of freedom of religion,” attorney Valérie De Schepper argued on behalf of the Belgian government.

EU regulations require that animals be “rendered insensible to pain before slaughter,” but member states can make exceptions for religious rituals.

“Every single slaughter is carefully monitored,” Emmanuel Jacubowitz of the Central Israelite Consistory of Belgium told the 15-judge panel, defending Jewish kosher rules that require animals be in perfect health before being killed. He said in some instances, those rules were kinder than traditional slaughter methods.

Jacubowitz was joined by representatives from several other Jewish and Muslim groups, who pointed out that EU regulations allow for a religious exemption to animal welfare legislation and the restrictions on animal slaughter were not applied to hunting and fishing.

Belgium is home to some 500,000 Muslims and 30,000 Jews. Those who want to observe religious slaughter rules must now obtain meat from abroad.

Belgium has joined Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia in not allowing for any exemptions to the stunning requirement. The Netherlands and Germany permit ritual slaughter but only for meat consumed within their borders.

“The situation in Belgium’s neighboring countries does not inspire optimism,” said Joos Roets, the lead counsel for the Executive of Muslims in Belgium. The Belgian authorities had argued that Jews and Muslims were able to import meat from other countries that have exemptions to EU law.  

Islamic groups lost another case before the Luxembourg-based court in 2018 over a Belgian law that required animal slaughter to take place in slaughterhouses. Many of the restrictions have been pushed by far-right groups, who are seen as being anti-Islamic rather than pro-animal.

There wasn’t universal agreement as to whether Judaism actually forbids stunning before killing. Rabbi Moshe Friedman told the Court of Justice that the Belgian rule is compatible with Jewish law.

“Freedom of religion is not infringed by a ban on stunning before slaughter,” he said. 

Friedman was described by the lawyers for the Central Israelite Consistory of Belgium as a “controversial figure.” He’s questioned the Holocaust and argued the Jewish death toll was actually 1 million, rather than the widely accepted 6 million.

Belgium was joined by Finland and Denmark, as well as several pro-animal organizations, who all argued that the law does not infringe on religious freedom.

A ruling on the case is expected later this year.

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