Brussels Parliament Shelves Proposed Shechitah Ban

By Rafael Hoffman

Brussels’ regional parliament rejected a proposal to ban religious slaughter methods, keeping the city and its surroundings the only area of Belgium where shechitah and halal meat can still be produced.

The vote was a welcome win for advocates of religious liberty in a country which has progressively forbidden meat production according to Jewish and Muslim traditions.

Yohan Benizri, President of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, celebrated the vote.

“After years of tireless efforts, together with many others, it is good to hear that Brussels resisted and kept the protection of its minorities intact,” he said. “This was never about animal welfare, since that concern has existed, and justified prior stunning as a rule since at least 1974. This was about taking away an exception to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. This win must be celebrated but there is still a lot of work to do elsewhere in Belgium and in other countries.”

The European Union requires all animal to be electronically stunned before slaughter, but allows for counties to grant religious exemptions from the law since both Jewish and Muslim religious law forbid the practice. In 2017, Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region and its Flemish-speaking Flanders region struck religious exemptions from their books creating a de facto ban on kosher and halal meat production in most of the country.

In Belgium, as in other parts of western Europe, the move to ban kosher and halal slaughter built broad popular support by creating an alliance between animal rights activists and nationalists looking to restrict the rights of Muslim immigrant populations.

Brussels, which constitutes the third of Belgium’s three quasi-independent states, resisted the trend, largely in deference to its large Muslim population.

The bans in Wallonia and Flanders were challenged as violations of Belgium’s constitutional right of religious freedom. Yet, high courts deferred the ruling to the EU’s Court of Justice. The EU court’s advising officer, the Advocates General, wrote that the bans indeed contravened the bloc’s Charter of Rights’ guarantee to religious freedom. However, the court’s judges ruled otherwise and said that the bans fell within the discretion given to member states in determining how to balance religious practice and animal welfare.

Recently, a bill that would have instituted a similar ban in Brussels was introduced and debated.

A petition against the proposal garnered over 100,000 signatures under the banner “MyPlaceMyFreedom.”

“For us, the people of Brussels, this is a restriction of our freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution and a stigmatization of the Muslim and Jewish communities under false pretenses,” read the petition in part.

On Friday, 43 of the Brussels’ parliament’s 89 members opted against bring the measure for a vote, shelving the matter for now. 38 members voted in favor of bringing the bill for a formal vote. Eight members abstained or were absent.

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, welcomed the vote in a statement.

“The bans on non-stunned slaughter enacted in the Belgium regions of Flanders and Wallonia in 2020 prohibited shechita and halal, blatantly trampling on the religious freedoms of the Jewish and Muslim communities, hundreds of thousands of Belgium citizens,” he said. “The law should never be used as an unsolicited weapon against religious communities. The vote of the Brussels regional Parliament on Friday, declaring that these religious methods of slaughter are not illegal thereby restores such religious rights in the country.”

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