Commentary Magazine


The UK’s Growing Disregard for Religious Liberty

The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

In recent years there have been no shortage of lawsuits where religious individuals have been stripped of their freedoms in the name of advancing human rights. Perhaps just a couple of examples will suffice here. While in 2002 Britain changed the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt, in 2011 the High Court sided with social workers who were preventing certain Christian couples from being allowed to foster if they refused to endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle to the children they were fostering. When throwing out the case of a specific Pentecostal couple the judges stated, “we live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy.”

In 2009 it had been the turn of the Jewish community to be subjected to this kind of thinking. That year Britain’s newly formed Supreme Court ruled that Jewish schools were practicing racial discrimination by following their tradition and only admitting children who were Jewish by religious law; be that according to matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion. But in hyper-politically correct modern Britain, once this was framed as racism, the schools didn’t stand a chance.   

Of course, those coming out in support of a ban on ritual slaughter claim that they are in no way motivated by hostility to either Jews or Muslims. Yet, in a country where one can still go shooting deer for sport, it is surely legitimate to question the motives of those driving this campaign. Indeed, in another opinion piece featured in the Telegraph, this time by Harry de Quetteville, there is a rather striking anomaly. The article primarily consists of a fairly gritty description of an unauthorized and ad hoc slaughtering of sheep by a group of Muslims, witnessed by the author, behind some apartment buildings in Paris. What then to make of the fact that the image accompanying the piece is a photograph showing two ultra-Orthodox Jews in a darkened abattoir?

Britain, like the rest of Europe that is moving to outlaw ritual slaughter, is increasingly not only a secular but also a decidedly anti-religious place. There the interest in environmentalism and animal welfare is becoming infused with a neo-Darwinism that holds that man is really just one of the animals in any case. Ritual slaughter like circumcision, which also faces being outlawed in Europe, seeks to make a clear distinction between the animal and the human by ritualizing and elevating that which would otherwise be entirely animalistic.

Those promoting the notion of religious freedom in an attempt to defend these practices can do so all they like, but Britain and Europe now consider themselves subject to a ‘higher’ system of values.  

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