The statutory prohibition against ritual slaughter, which does not stun the animal prior to slaughter, as required in most Western nations, poses a significant challenge for the international right to freedom of religion or belief in European nation-states. This prohibition is important not only in Europe, or because of the prohibition itself, but because it implicates the legal status of two minority religious communities in these nation-states, those of Judaism and Islam. Some animal rights advocates have objected to ritual slaughter without stunning because, in their view, it causes needless suffering by the animal, and they have been successful in getting their views enacted into law in a number of European countries. Indeed, some countries prohibit ritual slaughtering altogether, as we shall discuss below.
This paper argues that the right to freedom of religion or belief requires nation-states to respect the rights of religious minorities that engage in ritual slaughter, even if they recognize the importance of avoiding unnecessary suffering of animals. Following a review of the legal status of animals in rights discourse generally, we will show why the prohibition of ritual slaughter needlessly results in discrimination against religious minorities, and why it is important that nation-states attempting to reduce animal suffering more clearly specify realistic alternatives for avoiding such suffering that are compatible with current religious mandates about animal slaughter. We will also consider whether the alternative of importing kosher or halal meat in place of ritual slaughtering, proposed by some nation-states as a method of alleviating the harm to religious minorities, is an effective and fair alternative.