The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that authorities may order that animals be stopped before they are killed in a case in which Jewish and Muslim groups warned they could restrict religious freedom.
The court upheld a rule imposed in the Flemish region of Belgium to prevent the slaughter of undisturbed livestock, on animal rights grounds.
“The court concludes that the measures contained in the command allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance of animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to express their faith,” “the ruling said.
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The Flanders Belgian regional government issued an order in 2017, which came into effect in 2019, that abattoirs must maintain stock before disposing of them.
It was argued that this would reduce “suffering” but was widely seen as a measure aimed at halal Muslim tradition, and as one that effectively prevented Jewish kosher ritual.
Animal rights activists had pushed for the ban. Both kosher and halal ritual killers want stock to be sensitive when their throats slit.
But Jewish and Muslim groups had said the measure was an attack on their traditions and rituals and urged the European court to prioritize religious freedom.
Thursday’s ruling was sharply criticized by Jewish groups, with the head of the European Jewish Congress saying it “significantly weakens” the right to practice Jewish religious practices.
“This rule is a major blow to Jewish life in Europe and it certainly shows that our practices are no longer welcome. Telling people that their methods are not welcome is just a short step from saying that we are no longer welcome, ”said Moshe Kantor in a statement.
He said the EJC would fight against the court’s decision.
“Europe’s Jewish communities will not rest until our fundamental rights are upheld and protected under the full weight of European law,” Kantor said.
The ruling was also rejected by the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations and the European Jewish Association.
“This is a difficult day for European Jews. For decades now, as animal rights have entered, Kosher slaughter has been under constant attack, and subject to attempts to ban it, ”EJA chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said in a statement.
Margolin rejected “the whole false concept” that kosher killing is harder for animals.
“Today’s governance places animal welfare above the fundamental right of religious freedom. It’s simply a man’s favorite beast, ”he said.