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Does Religious Freedom Trump Animal Welfare?

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that laws requiring prior stunning of animals before they are slaughtered restrict the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims. It also found, however, that protecting the welfare of animals is part of the legitimate government objective of protecting public morals.

MELBOURNE – Last month, the European Court of Human Rights decided a case, The Executive Committee of Muslims of Belgium and Others v. Belgium, that required balancing religious freedom and animal welfare.

The Belgian provinces of Flanders and Wallonia had passed laws requiring that all animals slaughtered for human consumption must be stunned before being killed. Muslim and Jewish communities sought to overturn the legislation, claiming that it violated their freedom to slaughter animals in the manner prescribed by their dietary laws.

Previous applications to the Belgian Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union were unsuccessful, so the applicants turned to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a court of the Council of Europe, to which all European countries, except Belarus and Russia, belong. All members of the Council of Europe must ratify the European Convention on Human Rights.