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Danish ban on kosher and halal methods of slaughtering animals

07 March 2014


From the Revd Jennifer Brown, the Revd Dr Helen Hall, and the Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS
Sir, - We read with great interest the thought-provoking report on the slaughter of animals in accordance with kosher and halal requirements, and the comments made by prominent church leaders on the recent Danish ban (News, 28 February). As members of a religious animal-welfare organisation, we see the issues raised as very important.

All debates that turn on justice and competing freedoms are complex and, quite rightly, arouse strong feelings. If we are to make progress towards a positive resolution, we have to be clear about the questions at stake.

Taken in their full context, neither the statements of the bishops nor those of the Danish authorities suggest that one type of rights should automatically and inevitably defeat another. The dilemma is not whether religious liberty or animal welfare is more important.

The real issue is whether a particular restriction imposed by a democratically elected government on very specific religious practices is appropriate, desirable, and in accordance with Denmark's international obligations. Denmark is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights; so robust protection is in place. Article 9 (2) of the ECHR ensures that states can only limit the manifestation of religious beliefs in so far as doing so is a necessary and proportionate means of pursuing a legitimate social aim. If individuals or faith groups in that country believe that a fair balance has not been struck in this case, they are free to challenge this in court.

Therefore, characterising this ban as a threat to religious freedom is neither helpful nor appropriate. Whether it is a welcome development, however, is a matter for dialogue. We would broadly support the change in Denmark, while conceding that the situation is still far from ideal. The new law may simply lead to the importation of kosher and halal meat, in some instances from regions where there is little oversight of the slaughtering process and where there are few laws governing animal-welfare standards.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Danish agriculture minister wishes to reduce suffering among animals being slaughtered for their meat is something that, we feel, Christians should support, not denigrate. Animals have no ability to speak up for themselves, and are completely in our power and at our mercy. The fact that they are "merely dumb animals" over whom we can exercise our will with impunity only increases the need for us to have regard for their well-being and to treat them with compassion.

We believe that there must be room within interfaith dialogue to comment on issues over which we disagree or have concerns. As Christians, we need to speak not only out of the heritage that we share with the other Abrahamic faiths, but also from the unique perspective of the teachings of Jesus. When faced with the choice between relieving suffering or adhering to accepted religious practice, Jesus made it clear that the former took precedence over the latter (Luke 6.6-11 and 13.10-17). Should we not, therefore, take the same approach?

Jennifer Brown, Helen Hall, Dominic Walker on behalf of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals
PO Box 7193, Hook
Hampshire RG27 8GT

From the Revd Keith Trivasse
Sir, - The Danish ban on kosher and halal animal slaughter should be a matter of concern for all peoples of faith. This ban is the latest of a number of bans upon kosher and halal slaughter across the European Union. There have been similar moves to ban male circumcision. Frequently, the claim is made that the bans are stopping cruel or abusive practices dressed up in the language of rights; the Danish agriculture minister Dan Jørgensen does appear to have said that animal rights come before religious rights.

Such claims mask an underlying current of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic thought. All of these moves undermine the human right to practise freely the believer's religion. Christians should be acting with the Jewish and Muslim communities to uphold the right to freedom of religion.

Peoples of faith should be working together to make sure that Islamophobic and anti-Semitic manoeuvres are challenged, and we enable the negotiation of the right to be a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew within secularising societies.

St Paul's Vicarage
Fir Street, Bury BL9 7QG

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