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Sun Jun 17, 2012, 04:32 PM

Peter Singer: The use and abuse of religious freedom

10 hours ago • PETER SINGER | professor of bioethics at Princeton University

What are the proper limits of religious freedom? Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals in the Netherlands, offers this answer: “Religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”

The Party for the Animals, the only animal rights party to be represented in a national parliament, has proposed a law requiring that all animals be stunned before slaughter. The proposal has united Islamic and Jewish leaders in defense of what they see as a threat to their religious freedom, because their religious doctrines prohibit eating meat from animals that are not conscious when killed.

The Dutch parliament has given the leaders a year to prove that their religions’ prescribed methods of slaughter cause no more pain than slaughter with prior stunning. If they cannot do so, the requirement to stun before slaughtering will be implemented.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Catholic bishops have claimed that President Barack Obama is violating their religious freedom by requiring all big employers, including Catholic hospitals and universities, to offer their employees health insurance that covers contraception. And, in Israel, the ultra-orthodox, who interpret Jewish law as prohibiting men from touching women to whom they are not related or married, want separate seating for men and women on buses, and to halt the government’s plan to end exemption from military service for full-time religious students (63,000 in 2010).

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/column/peter-singer-the-use-and-abuse-of-religious-freedom/article_b95c35b6-b72c-11e1-86be-0019bb2963f4.html

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 04:53 PM

1. Humm, shocking an animal into unconsciousness does not cause suffering?

 

I wonder how they know this?

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Response to LARED (Reply #1)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 05:16 PM

3. A little off topic, but are familiar with Temple Grandin?

She developed some more humane methods of slaughtering cattle. Really fascinating woman.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 05:14 PM

2. The Party for Animals? They couldn't come up with a better name than that?

While I have respect for animal rights activists, in this case I think the Jewish and Islamic rules regarding keeping kosher trump the animals *right* to be stunned prior to slaughter.

I guess they have the option of importing their meat, but an exemption here seems warranted.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #2)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 11:09 PM

5. Perhaps the name sounds really catchy...

...in the original Dutch.

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Response to Silent3 (Reply #5)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 11:19 PM

6. Partij van de dieren

Thanks, google translator!

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Response to cbayer (Reply #6)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 04:05 AM

11. It doesn't sound as clunky in Dutch. nt.

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Response to SwissTony (Reply #11)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:39 AM

14. Thanks Swiss Tony!

I don't think anyone else around here speaks Dutch, lol.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #14)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 04:52 PM

15. Actually, there's a few of us but not many. Groetjes uit Nederland. nt.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 09:10 PM

4. A truly thoughtful article.

 

I have to agree with Singer that eating meat is not a religious requirement. There are numerous vegetarian Jews and Muslims, already. Stunning is very much more humane than simply hoisting an animal up while they bleat in fear, and slitting their throats to let them bleed out. They do feel pain and fear, y'know. They are living beings, and if there is a god, it would want us to care for its creation as good stewards. Some stuffy priests don't get my empathy. I'll go with the activists asking for the most minimal sign of humanity from the black-robed bearded menfolk.

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Response to daaron (Reply #4)

Sun Jun 17, 2012, 11:24 PM

7. I have a good friend who keeps kosher.

It's a private, but very important thing to him.

And he is definitely an omnivore (and an incredible cook).

While I do not understand his decision, I support it because it means something to him. He has strong views about the evolutionary chasm between humans and other animals. He would never hurt an animal for no reason, but he would clearly put humans way above them.

I would support his right to have kosher meat. In fact, I wish there were more of it, because fixing a meal for him can be a real challenge, lol.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #7)

Mon Jun 18, 2012, 02:37 AM

8. "Evolutionary chasm between humans and other animals."

 

Lines like this make me fear for the future.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #7)

Mon Jun 18, 2012, 09:04 AM

9. I'm just debating whether an individual human's right to have a kosher meal -->

 

outweighs an animal's right to have a humane death. I don't feel (or think) that it does. Not that anyone's opinion really matters, when it comes to religious exemptions.

I would posit that Abrahamic religions aren't equipped at all to deal with ethical questions of this nature - let's not forget that the Torah (and OT) commands all kinds of animal sacrifice, all of which has admittedly long since been abandoned (except by a small group of Jews in Ethiopia, since repatriated to Israel). Yet, with this history of ritual blood sacrifice - none of which would be permissible under current law in any industrialized nation, including Israel - one could make the argument that Judaic and Christian mores regarding the treatment of animals are the least enlightened of the world religions.

U.S. law does allow the ritual sacrifice by Voodoo practitioners - but it also regulates it. Similarly, the Navajo and some Pueblo tribes are allowed the use of peyote, but the rest of America isn't. Meanwhile, Rastafarians aren't allowed even sacramental use of ganja by adults, but Catholics can give wine to their children. In short, the carve-outs are inconsistent across the board, betraying an ad hoc approach that betrays little deep thought on the 'meat' of the respective matters, as't'were; it doesn't seem to matter if the practice being carved out (or not) is normal in the bell-curve sense (or not). Frankly, political clout seems to be the determining factor - even in the case of peyote, which was legalized exclusively for the Native American Church in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, hot on the heels of the AIM.

Seen in this light, carve-outs for kosher meats are less a matter of ethics than of politics. Who has a stake, politically? Mega slaughterhouses. Agribusiness. All those visions of rabbis personally overseeing the humane slaughter of kosher meat are wrong. Instead, think 'Hormel'. The vast majority of kosher meat comes from the same slaughterhouses that the rest of us eat from, and that too often fail to meet the compassion requirement of Halacha, or the humane treatment requirements of government, here in the U.S. One can only imagine how animals are being treated in less animal-friendly nations. Other than cursory ritual, kosher meat is no different than non-kosher meat - except that when humane slaughter occurs, there is less adrenaline in the animal's blood. Indeed, Halacha would seem to require that kosher facilities adopt the most humane methods available, rather than hanging onto minor details of traditions, merely for the sake of it.



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Response to daaron (Reply #9)

Mon Jun 18, 2012, 11:47 AM

10. You make some really good points.

It is hard to know where the line should be drawn and I would hope that countries considering the implementation of these laws are consulting with religious leaders whose communities will be affected by them.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 09:56 AM

12. Singer fails to address the larger issue here.

The larger issue being the conflicts that are bound to arise within multicultural societies and the groups contained within those societies. Society, of course, has the obligation to maintain order within; but part of maintaining order is allowing sub-groups to freely practice those customs that are not in direct conflict with the larger demands of the society.

It is a bit simplistic to maintain that since a religion doesn't mandate that its practitioners eat meat, then laws that essentially require those practitioners to give up eating meat are not restrictions on religious freedom. Certainly they are. That's not to say that society doesn't have a right to outlaw inhumane treatment of animals; but, I'm not sure the proposed law actually outlaws such treatment - the article isn't very specific about this.

For example, I had a friend who used to get daily work through Manpower. One day he got a job in a chicken slaughterhouse. His job (this happened years ago and this is my best recollection of his description) was to take the chickens out of crates and hang them by their feet on a conveyor belt.The conveyor belt carried the chickens through the slaughtering process. He said the chickens, when he hung them on the belt, could see the previous chickens having their throats cut as they rode around on the belt, and that they reacted with panic to that sight. So, suppose before their throats were cut, these chickens were stunned. Would that satisfy this law? Would the chickens being put on the belt still be able to see the eventual slaughter of the other chickens? Is that type of suffering banned by this law?

How about the "farm factories" that currently exist in the US? According to this law, could animals be raised under these horrendous conditions as long as they are stunned before they are slaughtered? Personally, I consider raising animals under these conditions to be far more offensive than any very short-term pain associated with their slaughter.

Singer does acknowledge that not all conflicts between religion and state are easy to resolve. However, claiming that requiring all members of a particular religion either give up meat or violate their religion is not such a conflict is disingenuous. Singer should address this issue more directly by coming to terms with exactly which conflicts between religion and the state are serious enough that they need to be resolved by the state. In this case, my question is what concern is the law actually addressing? Is it directed toward the humane treatment of animals? Or, merely to their humane slaughter? Which issue should the state address?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #12)

Tue Jun 19, 2012, 10:10 AM

13. I'm going to have that image of dangling, panicking chickens in my mind for quite some time.

To answer these questions, religion is going to have to pry into and squeeze its own beliefs more thoroughly. (Dare I say theology?) You're unquestionably correct. It is not simply the matter of a state accommodating religious rules. Religion must be prepared to expalin the underlying rationale for those rules, and be prepared to define them, no less than the state must be prepared to explain its underlying policies behind its exercise of state power. If both do their job, the resolution of apparent conflicts will be, if not easy, at least apparent.

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