Belgium: Bans on Ritual Slaughter Would Be Unconstitutional

Legal notice comes after animal welfare minister said practice of ritual sacrifice should be outlawed.

In 2007, a group of Sanhedrin sought to resume sacrifice on Temple Mount. The sheep were readied.
Tomer Appelbaum

A Belgian government advisory body determined Wednesday that any legislation that would prohibit ritual slaughter in the kingdom would violate its constitution.

The legal notice issued by the Belgian Council of State came amid recent debates and planned legislation to ban the practice. The animal welfare minister in the government of the Flemish Region said last month it should be outlawed.

Religious laws in Islam and Judaism require animals be conscious when their necks are slit, though some religious leaders from both faiths allow stunning immediately after the cut. Many animal rights activists say the lack of stunning is cruel. Their opponents maintain ritual slaughter is more humane because it is not mechanized and less prone to accidents resulting in animal suffering.

In addition, many opponents of Muslim immigration and presence in Europe also oppose by extension the proliferation of Muslim slaughter, which has fewer restrictions on how it needs to be performed and by whom than the Jewish method, called shechitah.

In May, the Green Party of the Flemish Region — one of three entities that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium – filed a draft bill to the parliament commission on animal welfare. Amid opposition to the bill, the issue was brought to the review of the Council of State, which determined that if passed, a law banning the practice would be overturned by the country’s federal constitutional court because it would violate religious freedoms, the Jewish monthly Joods Actueel of Antwerp reported.

The animal welfare minister, Ben Weyts of the New Flemish Alliance, a center-right movement and the Flemish Region’s ruling party, vowed to keep fighting for a blanket ban on ritual slaughter and said he was disappointed by the legal notice.

Last month, Weyts said he blamed Muslim faith leaders for a situation that he said now requires a ban. He said they were intransigent when tried to reach compromises with them on ritual slaughter, particularly of mobile slaughtering areas set up on Muslim holidays.

Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, said in an editorial Wednesday that compromises can be made on the part of faith communities, particularly on limiting the slaughter to qualified slaughterers with the expertise to prevent animal suffering. For Jewish communities worldwide, such limitations are a reality, with certified shochets doing the work based on training. But in Muslim communities, it is customary for untrained family heads to perform the butchering.

Notwithstanding, Freilich wrote, if Weyts refuses to recognize constitutional limitations of the Belgian kingdom, “perhaps it is better if he resigns.”