Belgian High Court Punts Decision on Shechitah to EU

Court of Justice of the European Union. (EU Court of Justice)

A law that bans shechitah and halal slaughter methods in most of Belgium will likely be decided by the high court of the European Union, now that judges in Belgium have asked for the matter to be considered by the EU’s Court of Justice.
The ban, which came into effect this past January, has roiled Jews and Muslims in the country, but is widely supported by elected officials and the general population. The move, which was highly expected when a suit for the law to be struck was initiated, takes the matter to a panel of judges from different EU member nations which convenes in Luxemburg.
Yohan Benizri, President of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations (CCOJB), the country’s arm of the European Jewish Congress, told Hamodia that, while he had hoped for stronger action from the Belgian court, the decision still carried positive signs for those who oppose the law.
“I had hoped for a direct annulment based on Belgian constitutional principles, but I expected the compatibility with EU law would certainly trigger a preliminary question,” he said. “[This shows that] it was not true that the challenge was baseless and that we were just challenging a law that did not suit us, as some have argued. [The court’s decision proves] that we have serious questions about compatibility [of the ban] with legal norms.”
The referral by Belgium’s high court asks the Court of Justice to determine whether the ban is in conflict with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and other relevant pan-European laws.
Mr. Benizri added that he was optimistic, based on assessments from several experts familiar with EU legal principles, that the Court of Justice would issue a favorable ruling for the affected minority groups.
Belgium requires that all animals be electrically stunned before slaughter, but in the past gave exemptions for kosher and halal methods, which both forbid the practice. In 2017, parliaments in the nation’s Flemish-speaking Flanders region and in its French-speaking Wallonia region passed laws that ended those exceptions. Religious slaughter methods remain legal only in Belgium’s third semi-autonomous region, its capital city, Brussels.
Shortly after the laws were passed, CCOJB and the Jewish Consistoire, together with several other Jewish groups and meat industry professionals, challenged the law in Belgium’s highest constitutional court, the Council of State. Their claims were joined by similar suits from several Muslim organizations.
In addition to alleging that the ban is a violation of guarantees of religious freedom granted by Belgian law as well as by the charter of the European Union, they also argue that it inhibits the professions of shochtim and kosher butchers and discriminates against Jews and Muslims.
Flanders is home to one of Europe’s largest Orthodox populations in its regional capital of Antwerp. While one of the community’s slaughterhouses has remained in operation in Brussels, a facility that had supplied much of its poultry was forced to move its operations to Hungary.
Petitioners will now submit additional filings to the Court of Justice, which is likely to take between nine to eleven months to issue a decision, which will be binding on Belgium as an EU-member state.
Brooke Goldstein, the executive director of The Lawfare Project, which has been a partner to CCOJB’s suit, emphasized the cases’ implications for Jews in Belgium and around the world.
“The ban on religious slaughter is a shameful and vindictive act toward minority communities. If allowed to stand, it has appalling implications for Jewish communities in Belgium and beyond,” she said. “We will continue to fight this bigotry and discrimination in the European courts. We will never let attacks on the rights of Jews and other minorities to practice their religion go unchallenged.”