After years of procedure, Belgium’s Constitutional Court has decided to upheld decrees adopted by the Flanders and Wallonia regions that prohibit religious slaughter.
The Constitutional Court, which is the country’s highest court for constitutional matters, upheld a ruling of the European Court of Justice that member states of the European Union can ban religious slaughter without pre-stunning.
The ban voted by the Flemish and Walloon parliaments had been challenged by Jewish groups who argue that under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorised slaughterhouses.
Shechita, the Jewish religious method of slaughtering animals for producing kosher meat, requires they be conscious when their throats are slit by an extremely honed special knife which kills in seconds — a practice that critics say is cruel but which advocates insist is more humane than mechanised methods used in non-kosher abattoirs.
Local and European Jewish groups have condemned the ban on ritual slaughter which they see as a severe limitation on religious freedom in the heart of the European Union. Some described the move as ‘’antisemitic’’ and a reminder of a darker period in European history. In 1933, one of the first laws the Nazis enacted was a ban on kosher animal slaughter.
Around 38,000 Jews live in Belgium, mainly in Antwerp, in the Flemish region, and in Brussels, the country’s capital and region. Antwerp is home of one of the largest Jewish ultra-Orthodox populations in Europe.
In its decision, the Belgian Constitutional Court said that freedom of thought, conscience and religion was one of the foundations of a democratic society.
It also recognized that the general ban on slaughter without stunning entailed a restriction on freedom of religion of Jews and Muslims who use such methods, and whose religious laws prohibit the consumption of meat of stunned animals.
But the Belgian court said that the ban on slaughter without stunning “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.”
In a reaction to the Court ruling, Yohan Benizri, president of CCOJB, the coordination committee of Belgian Jewish organizatins, declared: “Of course this is disappointing for religious communities, but this is mostly a shame for our country. We are back to square one: are we to accept that hunting is permitted for cultural reasons in this country while a millennial presence in the region would not justify a similar exception? What a moral defeat for our institutions. This is not over. Legally and politically, we will continue fighting this. This is a question of principles.”