The Corner

Religion

Europe Continues to Shrink Religious Liberty

(Mohsin Raza/REUTERS)

As western society secularizes, religious liberty is in danger of becoming passé. Increasingly, jurisdictions are enacting laws in furtherance of legitimate social considerations that, concomitantly, shrivel the freedom of religious believers to live according to their personal faith precepts.

Western Europe is leading the way. Belgium now requires all food animals be stunned before slaughter, which prevents their meat from being declared kosher or halal — hence edible — in accordance with the religious requirements of Judaism and Islam.

Of course, such animal welfare laws are absolutely appropriate. But, until recently, comity was also preserved by allowing limited religious exemptions. Those accommodations are now systematically being removed. From the New York Times story:

Most countries and the European Union allow religious exceptions to the stunning requirement, though in some places — like the Netherlands, where a new law took effect last year, and Germany — the exceptions are very narrow. Belgium is joining Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia among the nations that do not provide for any exceptions.

That puts observant Jews and Muslims in a terrible bind. They can have food shipped from elsewhere, which is more expensive. But what if other countries also ban such practices, or their home countries forbid the import of kosher or halal meat? Believers would be forced to choose between eating meat and violating their religious beliefs.

Some secularists would be just fine with that since these laws don’t infringe their own freedoms, while those who are anti-religious would delight in forcing such hard choices upon believers.

Some non-religionists even presume to tell the faithful what their rules do and don’t require:

Ann De Greef, director of Global Action in the Interest of Animals, a Belgian animal rights group, insisted that stunning does not conflict with kosher and halal doctrine, and “they could still consider it ritual slaughtering,” but the religious authorities refuse to accept that.

“They want to keep living in the Middle Ages and continue to slaughter without stunning — as the technique didn’t yet exist back then — without having to answer to the law,” she said. “Well, I’m sorry, in Belgium the law is above religion and that will stay like that.”

That kind of religious intolerance is only going to present in brighter hues going forward. There is great pressure, for example, to ban infant circumcision, a sacred and absolute requirement of Jews, also practiced as a religious duty by many Muslims. Efforts are also afoot to force doctors to participate in abortion and/or euthanasia — even when a doctor considers such acts to be a grievous sin materially impacting their own eternal destinies. I am sure readers can think of many other examples.

Freedom cannot be a one-way street. Steamrolling traditional believers’ faith values is a recipe for tearing society apart.

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