Brussels seeks ritual slaughter opinion from European Court of Justice

Summary

In an ongoing case, the court of first instance in Brussels has turned to the ECJ to determine whether a ban on ritual slaughter outside licensed premises constitutes a breach of freedom of religion

EU law has supremacy

Brussels’ court of first instance has turned to the European Court of Justice in a case about the ritual slaughter of animals outside licensed slaughterhouses.

European rules state that slaughtering animals without stunning them – as happens in the halal and kosher traditions – can only be carried out by licensed slaughterhouses. The Brussels court is questioning whether  this is in breach of the principle of freedom of religion, as part of a court case brought by a group of Muslim organisations. 

Last year, the Council of Theologians issued an order to the local Muslim community that the obligation to slaughter an animal during the feast of Eid Al-Adha was suspended for a year, as slaughterhouse capacity was much smaller than demand.

The Brussels court has yet to offer its judgement and has requested an opinion from the ECJ on the question of religious freedom. However, it has shown some sympathy to the applicants’ case. “Serious arguments have been presented that suggest the need to carry out ritual slaughter in a licensed slaughterhouse appears to be an unlawful breach of the freedom of religion,” the court said.

The judgement would clash with EU law, which has supremacy, so the Brussels court has sought a ruling from Luxembourg. Only if those justices agree would a change have to be made. That decision could take a year, with Eid Al-Adha due to take place in September. 

The ECJ’s involvement will not deter Flanders’ animal welfare minister, Ben Weyts, from his campaign against the practice, he said. Weyts applies the rule in Flanders, while trying to convince his coalition colleagues to back a decree that would outlaw ritual slaughter altogether.

“This move is not the sort of thing that will divert me from my path in my actions against ritual slaughter,” Weyts said. “”I call on my fellow animal welfare ministers to come together with us in this matter. I am convinced they agree with me that a civilised society is one where animal welfare is defended.”

Photo: Jasper Jacobs/Belga