Court Upholds Religious Slaughter in Belgium

NEW YORK - Leaders of Belgium’s Jewish community cautiously celebrated a high court decision that pronounced a proposed ban on shechitah and halal slaughter to be unconstitutional.

Rabbi Pinchos Kornfeld, president of Antwerp’s Machzikei Hadaas Kehillah and part of the leadership of the Belgian Jewish Consistoire, told Hamodia that the ruling was “very positive.”

“It’s definitely a setback for them [those working to ban religious slaughter], but this isn’t sure to be the end; they could still try again,” he said.

The proposal to forbid any slaughter without pre-stunning was introduced a few weeks ago in the government for Belgium’s largely French-speaking Wallonia region, one of the county’s three major provinces. The legislation was challenged on the grounds that it violated protections for freedom of religion and was brought for review by Belgium’s Constitutional Court.

On Tuesday night, justices handed down a decision saying that such a ban would “contradict basic human rights laws and religious rights in Belgium.”

The legislation mirrors a similar attempt last year in Flanders, the country’s majority Flemish speaking district. Both were largely a result of the government’s efforts to regulate temporary slaughterhouses set up by the country’s large Muslim community as part of one of their yearly celebrations.

Last June, the same high court, although a different panel of judges, stuck down the Flanders regional proposal on similar grounds, but added a caveat instructing the government to seek a “solution that would satisfy animal rights concerns.”

Negotiations are still ongoing between Jewish and Muslim groups and members of the Flanders government in an attempt to reach a compromise that would satisfy the concerns of all sides.

Flanders’ capitol, Antwerp, is home to one of Europe’s largest Orthodox communities.

The present ruling grants broader protection, as no such addendum was added. Still, advocates of the ban could still pursue new legislation tailored around the technical boundaries set by Tuesday’s legal decision.

“I was not surprised that the court ruled this way, since they already struck down the Flemish law, but I was waiting to see how strong it would be,” said Rabbi Kornfeld. “They [the ban’s sponsors] have already engaged legal advisors to see how they can work with it. I’m pleased with the ruling, but it’s far from a simple matter at this point. We have to see what happens when parliament comes back into session.”

Rabbi Albert Guigi, Belgium’s Chief Rabbi, welcomed the ruling and expressed hope that its effects would be felt beyond his country.

“I’m happy that our position has been accepted and the decision will end attempts to block exceptions [allowing] kosher shechitah under Belgian law,” he said in a statement. “I think the ruling is important in the sense that it sends a message to other European countries who may also be pursuing bans on kosher shechitah.”

As in many European countries, religious slaughter in Belgium has been under attack for decades, a struggle historically led by left-wing politicians and activists on the grounds of animal rights.

The present wave of legislative attempts represent an increasing trend in recent years by nationalist elements to seek its elimination as a means of curbing the size and influence of Muslim communities on the continent. Rabbi Kornfeld said that the Jewish community has become “collateral damage” from this movement.

Slaughter without pre-stunning is presently illegal in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland.