Does the protection of animal welfare take precedence over religious freedom?

Does the protection of animal welfare take precedence over religious freedom?

An unprecedented decision. For the first time, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on the ban on ritual slaughter on Tuesday February 13, ruling in favor of the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium which had banned the slaughter of animals without stunning, in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

This decision was rendered following an appeal to the ECHR filed by several organizations representing Belgian Muslim communities and by Belgian citizens of Muslim and Jewish faiths. The Belgian Constitutional Court rejected appeals against these regional decrees in 2021, which however do not concern the Brussels region.

Restriction of freedom of religion

The ECHR ruled that the ban on ritual slaughter did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to freedom of religion. To justify its response, it considered that the preservation of animal welfare can constitute a legitimate restriction, in the name of “protection of public morals”.

However, “if the ECHR authorizes the ban on ritual slaughter, this does not mean that it generalizes it in Europe”, explains a good connoisseur of the file. The decision argues that the Walloon and Flemish restrictions are proportionate, taking into account in particular the fact that the purchase of halal and kosher meat is not prohibited outside these regions. Ritual slaughter remains authorized in countries which accept it, as is the case in France.

“However, European law would no longer constitute an obstacle for a French government which wishes to prohibit it”, he concludes. If the subject is not on the agenda, the ban on ritual slaughter was defended by several candidates – Yannick Jadot and Marine Le Pen – during the 2022 presidential election.

No consequences in France

The subject is more widely debated in Europe. “Denmark, which also banned ritual slaughter, intervened during the procedure to assert its position”, testifies the same source. In the longer term, by creating a precedent regarding religious freedom, this decision opens, according to her, a Pandora’s box: other ritual practices could find themselves restricted, such as circumcision.

“This decision is, however, not final,” adds this source, while the judgment, which has provoked numerous reactions, will have to be confirmed in the Grand Chamber. “The Muslim community in Belgium is worried and wonders how far these restrictions concerning their religious freedoms will go, which also reinforce the feeling of rejection and the discriminatory treatment of which they are the victim”reacted the Executive of Muslims of Belgium and the Coordination Council of Islamic Institutions of Belgium.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, president of the European Jewish Association (EJA), also expressed his concern: “The implicit determination of the distorted verdict is that the rights of these citizens to freedom of religion and worship are even less important than those of animals. »

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