The European Court of Justice has ruled that authorities can order that animals be stunned before slaughter in a case that Muslim and Jewish groups warned could curb religious freedom.
The court on Thursday backed a regulation imposed in the Flemish region of Belgium to ban the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned, on animal rights grounds.
“The court concludes that the measures contained in the decree allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion,” the ruling said.
Belgium’s Flanders regional government issued the order in 2017 which took effect in 2019 that abattoirs must stun livestock before slaughtering them.
The argument was made that this would “reduce their suffering” but it was widely perceived as being a measure directed at the Muslim halal tradition, and one that also effectively banned the Jewish kosher ritual.
Animal rights activists had pushed for the ban which could prevent kosher and halal ritual slaughter which requires livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.
But Jewish and Muslim groups had argued the measure was an attack on their traditions and rituals and urged the European court to prioritise religious liberty.
An umbrella organisation for Jewish groups in Belgium slammed the decision as a “denial of democracy” that did not respect the rights of minority groups.
“The fight continues, and we will not admit defeat until we have exhausted all our legal remedies, which is not yet the case,” Yohan Benizri, head of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations, said.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, said the ruling represented a “sad day for European Jewry”.
“What a terrible message to send to European Jewry, that you and your practices are not welcome here. This is a basic denial of our rights as European citizens,” he said in a statement.