The Santería Case: Michael Vick, Part 2

Dear Colleagues:

Many people are very unhappy with a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Merced v. Kasson, in which the court enjoined officials of the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing various ordinances to stop Santería practitioners from performing animal sacrifices using goats, lambs, and other animals, including ducks, chickens, and guinea hens. The Santería practitioners offer animal blood to deities and then cook and consume at least part of some of the animals. The federal court did not decide the case under the federal Constitution but under a state law guaranteeing freedom of religion (although the decision would probably have been the same if the matter were analyzed under the federal Constitution).

The moral issue involved in this case is similar to the one presented in the Michael Vick case. To the extent that there are differences, this case is actually stronger than the Vick case. In Euless, it is explicitly legal for individuals to kill “domesticated fowl considered as general tablefare such as chicken or turkey.” In response to the argument that butchering a larger animal such as a goat might present health problems, the court pointed out that large animals, such as deer, may be butchered and disposed of in Euless as long as they are dead when brought into the city.

So if you kill “domesticated fowl” because you want to eat them, that’s fine. If you kill them because you want to offer them to a diety (and then eat them), then that’s not fine. If you kill a deer outside of Euless and bring it into Euless to butcher it, that’s fine. If you kill and butcher the goat in Euless as part of a religious ceremony, that’s not fine.

This, of course, is nonsense.

Please do not misunderstand me. Read more

It’s Time for a Change

Dear Colleagues:

Animal welfare—the notion that we should treat animals “humanely”—has been around for 200 years. It has gotten nowhere. We are using more animals now in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

The 19th century founders of animal welfare opposed human slavery but they never opposed the property status of animals because they thought that although animals could suffer, they had no interest in their lives. That is, animals do not care that we use them but only care about how we use them. According to the welfarists, animals are not self-aware and do not have an interest in continuing to live; they only have an interest in not suffering a painful death.

So the welfarists of the 19th century did not advocate the abolition of animal slavery as they advocated the abolition of human slavery. Instead, they advocated that we have laws that require the “humane” treatment of animals. What the welfarists did not realize, however, was that as long as animals remained property, the level of protection provided by these laws would necessarily remain very low because it costs money to protect animal interests. As a general matter, we will spend that money and protect those interests only when it results in an economic benefit for us.

Nothing has changed.

The welfarists of the 21st century still maintain that animals do not have an interest in their lives and that killing them does not itself raise a moral problem. Peter Singer, who is the modern proponent of the welfarist theory of the 19th century, states this explicitly. This view that animals have no interest in continued life explains why PETA has no problem with killing 90% of the animals it rescues. For the welfarists, death is not itself a “harm.”

And, for the most part, animal welfare regulations only improve the economic efficiency of animal exploitation. In other words, we protect animal interests only when we get an economic benefit. Animal welfare campaigns, such as the campaign for the controlled-atmosphere killing/stunning of poultry, or the elimination of the gestation crate are based explicitly on economic efficiency. That is, these reforms are promoted on the ground that they will improve production efficiency.

After 200 years of a doctrine that is speciesist (nonhuman animal life itself has no moral value) and that has demonstrated that it is useless as a practical matter, it is time for a change.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione