World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder criticized the decision of European courts to uphold Belgian legislation banning religious ritual slaughter without pre-stunning, in a statement released by the WJC on Thursday.
“Today’s ruling is a continued maneuver to discriminate against Belgium’s Jewish and Muslim citizens," said Lauder. "By prohibiting religious slaughter without stunning, the Belgium Constitutional Court has placed a potentially terminal obstacle to continued Jewish communal life in Europe. This is not a matter of animal welfare, but the suppression of religious freedom and liberty that is guaranteed in Article 10(1) of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
“As antisemitism continues to surge in Europe and around the world, we cannot let instances of religious persecution like this go unchallenged. The European Union must reverse this ill-advised decision so that Jews, and other minority religions, can practice their beliefs without restrictions.”
On Thursday, the Constitutional Court of Belgium upheld a verdict by the European Court of Justice on legislation in Wallonia and Flanders banning religious slaughter without pre-stunning.
While the Constitutional Court of Belgium acknowledged that the verdict would result in a restriction of religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims, the ban “responds to a pressing social need and is proportionate to the legitimate objective pursued of promoting animal welfare. Furthermore, the possibility of reversible stunning during ritual slaughter cannot be interpreted as prescribing how a religious rite is to be performed.”
On December 17, 2020, the European Union Court of Justice was presented with arguments by Jewish and Muslim groups, who asserted that the ban restricted religious freedoms and feared that a permissive could set precedent for legislation throughout the EU against the religious ritual slaughter.
The court determined that the act of pre-stunning struck “a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion.”
Jewish and Muslim religious doctrine holds that animals must be slaughtered according to the rules of shechita (religious slaughter) or zabiha to be considered kosher or halal, respectively. If the meat is not kosher or halal, it cannot be consumed by devout Jews or Muslims.
Critics argue that shechita, and other methods that do not allow for the stunning of animals are inhumane and cause distress and suffering to the animal. Animal welfare concerns were a chief consideration in the rulings and legislation in Belgium.
Shechita forbids several practices during slaughter, including stunning. Those opposing the ban hold that the traditional practices are humane and are done to avoid causing the animal pain.