Muslims and Jews lose appeal against Belgian animal rights laws

A claim by religious groups that they struggle to ensure food is halal or kosher was thrown out

The European Court of Human Rights rejected the claim Muslims would struggle to buy halal food. Getty Images
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A group of Muslims and Jews has lost a court battle in Belgium over animal rights laws they said prevented them from keeping halal and kosher.

The ban on ritual slaughter without stunning an animal first was opposed by representatives of Belgium's Muslim, Moroccan and Turkish communities, as well as Muslim and Jewish individuals.

They argued the laws made it "hard, if not impossible, for Jewish and Muslim believers to slaughter animals in accordance with the precepts of their religion".

The European Court of Human Rights accepted the two laws, passed separately in Belgium's Dutch and French-speaking regions, interfered with religious freedom.

However, judges said the intrusion was "proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the protection of animal welfare".

European law allows religious freedom to be curbed in the name of "public morals" – and this extends to animal welfare, the court ruled.

A seven-judge panel also rejected a claim by the applicants it would be "difficult, if not impossible, to obtain meat in conformity with their religious belief".

The government said people could still buy their preferred meat from abroad, or from Brussels, which has not passed such a strict law.

The Muslim and Jewish groups "had not shown that access to such meat had become more difficult", the court said. A claim that the laws were discriminatory also failed.

Judges at the EU's Court of Justice, a separate tribunal, had previously sided with the Belgian authorities in a ruling in 2020.

The Muslim Executive of Belgium, one of the claimants, is in a separate dispute with ministers after losing its official representative status over claims of mismanagement.

The Belgian government forced out its chairman Salah Echallaoui in 2020 over alleged links to Moroccan intelligence. A court later decided this was an overreach by ministers based on unproven claims.

Updated: February 13, 2024, 5:40 PM