On 13th February 2024, the European Court of Human Rights, Europe’s top rights court, upheld a ban on slaughtering farmed animals for food without first stunning them, in a case brought up by a mixed-faith group of people who argued that Belgium’s ban on ritual animal slaughter violates their religious freedom.

In 2017, Flanders mandated that all animals be stunned before slaughter, and Wallonia followed in 2018, effectively banning religious slaughter in the entire Belgium territory. A group of 16 people and 7 advocacy groups first brought a suit in Belgian court, which landed at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in 2020. This Court oversees European Union law, and it ruled that the ban did not violate the rights of Jews and Muslims, as EU regulations require that animals be “rendered insensible to pain before slaughter,” but member states can make exceptions for religious rituals (but they don’t have to). The 15-judge panel in Luxembourg wrote in 2020, “Animal welfare, as a value to which contemporary democratic societies have attached increasing importance for a number of years, may, in the light of changes in society, be taken into account to a greater extent in the context of ritual slaughter and thus help to justify the proportionality of legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings.”

The mix-faith group then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, and the seven-judge panel came to a similar conclusion. In their judgment, the justices wrote, “The protection of animal welfare constitutes an ethical value to which contemporary democratic societies attach increasing importance and that should be taken into account when assessing restrictions placed on the external manifestation of religious convictions.”

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.