’Those who argue that this is a choice between animal welfare and religious freedom are missing the point. We are very sensitive to animal welfare considerations but the prohibition of religious slaughter in two Belgian regions is incompatible with EU law, and a violation of our fundamental rights,’’ said CCOJB President Yohan Benizri. ‘’This prohibition is unbecoming in a democratic society which heath is measured in light of the way it pursues its highest values while respecting its minorities,’’ he noted.
The European Court of Justice, the Luxembourg-based Supreme Court of the European Union in matters of EU law, held Wednesday a hearing into the legality of measures adopted by two Belgium’s regions, Flanders and Wallonia, effectively banning shechita, the Jewish method of slaughter of animals for meat consumption.
The ban voted by the Flemish and Walloon parliaments has already been challenged before the Belgium Constitutional Court, which referred the decision to the European Court of Justice..
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 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.
After Wednesday’s hearing on the legality of measures adopted by the two Belgian regions, CCOJB, Belgium’s umbrella group of Jewish organizations, as applicant in the main proceedings, sounded optimistic about the case law. ‘’It would be surprising in light of the hearing that the Court would not follow our reasoning,’’ said CCOJB President Yohan Benizri.
CCOJB addressed the Court by stressing that ‘’the margin of discretion left to Member States does not permit to make the exception for religious slaughter meaningless, to the extent it happens in an approved slaughterhouse. In other words, religious slaughter may be regulated but not prohibited.’’
Banning ritual slaughter ‘’would violate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the restriction to religious freedom would not be adequate, consistent or proportionate,’’ it said.
The possibility to import kosher meat from other countries ‘’does not justify the prohibition.’’ ‘’If production is prohibited in a country, the overall supply, and the security of that supply, is restricted. The current sanitary crisis offers a striking example,’’ the Jewish group argued.
‘’Those who argue that this is a choice between animal welfare and religious freedom are missing the point. We are very sensitive to animal welfare considerations but the prohibition of religious slaughter in two Belgian regions is incompatible with EU law, and a violation of our fundamental rights,’’ said Yohan Benizri. ‘’This prohibition is unbecoming in a democratic society which heath is measured in light of the way it pursues its highest values while respecting its minorities,’’ he noted.
But Emmanuel Jacubowitz, a lawyer for the other applicant, the Belgian Jewish Consistory, the body representing the various religious communities of the country, told European Jewish Press: ”I don’t make predictions.”
The Court’s ruling is not expected before the fall but in the meantime the Advocate General’s opinion, which does not bind the Cour but plays a determining role, will be delivered on 10 September.
If there is no consensus among the Court 15 judges, the ruling will be taken by a majority vote.