Bench Memos

“Animal Rights Come Before Religion”

In discussing the HHS mandate, I’ve often used hypotheticals involving kosher delis to illustrate the absurdity of the Obama administration’s position that businesses and their owners lose their religious-liberty rights when they incorporate. If recent news from Denmark is any indication, such hypotheticals might be more real than I imagined.

According to this article, Denmark now bans the religious slaughter of animals for the production of kosher and halal meat. A Danish minister defended the ban on the ground that “animal rights come before religion.” (Never mind that Denmark’s supposed concern for animal rights did not prevent the Copenhagen Zoo from killing a healthy young giraffe zebra and feeding it to the lions in front of a crowd of children.)

Under the Obama administration’s position, corporations and their owners have no cognizable religious-liberty rights, under either the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the Free Exercise Clause, against restrictions imposed directly on the corporations. Thus, if that position were correct, a corporation that sold kosher or halal meats for religious uses could be barred by the federal government from engaging in the religious slaughter of animals central to its business.

Update: According to this comprehensive post by law professor Robert J. Delahunty on the matter, “several other western European nations, including Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland and Switzerland,” also ban ritual slaughter. Pointing out that various Nordic countries are exploring a ban on ritual circumcision, Delahunty suggests that these bans are motivated by an “underlying desire to purge Nordic and other European societies of unwelcome Jewish and Muslim populations.”

Update #2: A reader calls to my attention the excellent amicus brief submitted by Nathan Lewin on behalf of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, which more fully develops the points in my closing paragraph.

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