Human Exceptionalism

Animal “Rights” versus Free Exercise of Religion

We have entered a time in which the free exercise of religion is under sustained assault. Here’s a relatively extreme example: Animal rights activists are suing an Orthodox Jewish sect and the City of New York to prevent the ritual slaughter of chickens on Yom Kippur–which is the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar. From the Times of Israel story:

An animal rights group is suing several rabbis, synagogues and New York City to halt an extreme Yom Kippur ritual in which chickens are slaughtered.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporas filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against the kapparot ritual, which is practiced by haredi Orthodox Jews in the city, New York media reported Monday.

Kapparot involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head three times and reciting a prayer to cast sins to the bird. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor. In recent years, money has replaced the chicken in the rite for many Jewish groups.

So, how should this dispute be analyzed?

First, there is no question that the animal rightists’ seek to interfere with the free exercise of religion.

But that is not the end of our inquiry. Does the government have a compelling state interest in preventing this ritual slaughter? Perhaps. The suit claims:

Dead chickens, half dead chickens, chicken blood, chicken feathers, chicken urine, chicken feces, other toxins and garbage…consume the public streets,” the group says in its lawsuit. “There is no oversight and no remedy for toxic contaminant-filled debris or clean up…(the rituals) constitute a substantial public health risk that could have catastrophic and epidemic consequences.”

I suspect that the group only really cares about the chickens being killed, but that point aside, these allegations are sufficiently serious and weighty to warrant a  thorough investigation, both as to the animal cruelty and public health issues.

I don’t have an opinion on the “correct” answer. Free exercise of religion is not an absolute right, but the burden of proof should be on those who would interfere with religious freedom. 

But that can be done. This could well be just such a case.

Those who don’t care about the religious angle should never call themselves civil libertarians. Any “civil libertarian” who doesn’t defend the free exercise of religion is no civil libertarian.

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