The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom

MELBOURNE – What are the proper limits of religious freedom? Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals in the Netherlands, offers this answer: “Religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”

The Party for the Animals, the only animal-rights party to be represented in a national parliament, has proposed a law requiring that all animals be stunned before slaughter. The proposal has united Islamic and Jewish leaders in defense of what they see as a threat to their religious freedom, because their religious doctrines prohibit eating meat from animals that are not conscious when killed.

The Dutch parliament has given the leaders a year to prove that their religions’ prescribed methods of slaughter cause no more pain than slaughter with prior stunning. If they cannot do so, the requirement to stun before slaughtering will be implemented.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Catholic bishops have claimed that President Barack Obama is violating their religious freedom by requiring all big employers, including Catholic hospitals and universities, to offer their employees health insurance that covers contraception. And, in Israel, the ultra-orthodox, who interpret Jewish law as prohibiting men from touching women to whom they are not related or married, want separate seating for men and women on buses, and to halt the government’s plan to end exemption from military service for full-time religious students (63,000 in 2010).