Balancing Religion with Animal Rights Laws: How the Legal World Has Addressed the Topic of Animal Sacrifice

Written By: Andrew Hebert

When religion and law are in conflict, which takes precedent?[i] This question has plagued nations since the dawn of democracy, but not necessarily the dawn of time, as Dan Murphy explained in his recent article on the topic.[ii] Murphy noted that unlike ancient monarchies or dictatorships, most modern democracies vow to separate church and state.[iii] This separation of religion and democracy has fostered disagreement and tension between people’s beliefs across a wide variety of issues.[iv] One such issue is animal sacrifice.

Forms of animal sacrifice have been recorded dating back to the Neolithic Revolution.[v] Today, animal sacrifice is defined as “the ritual killing and offering of an animal (or part of an animal), usually as part of a religious ritual or to appease or maintain favor with a deity.”[vi] Sects of almost every major religion have performed some form of animal sacrifice at some point in history.[vii] Today, however, few religious groups still practice animal sacrifice.[viii]

Recently, several countries in the European Union have taken a firm stance against animal sacrifice.[ix] Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and Lithuania already have regulations limiting or banning ritual slaughter.[x] In addition, Belgium and Denmark have banned kosher and halal slaughter outright.[xi] Other countries, like the Netherlands, have passed strict constraints on religious slaughter, essentially forcing Jewish and Islamic groups to develop practices considered more humane[AC1] .[xii]

“Although such authorities as Temple Grandin have declared that ritual slaughter, done swiftly and properly by well-trained personnel, is as humane as conventional captive bolt stunning, nevertheless, animal rights activists have consistently portrayed the procedure as cruel and outdated.”[xiii] As Murphy also notes, one particular challenge is that “in the European countries with a legacy of anti-Semitism, as well as the current influx of Muslim immigrants, demanding an end to ritual slaughter, even if the intention is to advance animal welfare, heightens tensions in those communities.”[xiv]

Regardless of which side you stand on in this animal sacrifice-animal rights debate, there are countless authorities that both sides have cited to back their beliefs.[xv] Ultimately, the conflict between animal sacrifice and animal rights does not seem to be nearing a compromise anytime soon. It will be interesting to see how the European Union handles it. After all, it may only be a matter of time until North America is faced with addressing this same tension.

[i] Dan Murphy, Murphy: Rituals vs. Reactionaries, Drovers (Jan. 9, 2018, 8:00 AM),

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] See Id.

[v] Animal Sacrifice, Wikipedia, (last visited Jan. 24, 2018).

[vi] Id.

[vii] See Id.

[viii] See Id.

[ix] Murphy, supra note i.

[x] Id.

[xi] Adam Withnall, Denmark Bans Kosher and Halal Slaughter as Minister Says ‘Animal Rights Come Before Religion, Independent (Feb. 18, 2014, 9:46 PM),

[xii] Murphy, supra note i.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] See Siobhan McFadyen, Muslims Urged Not to Slaughter Animals in the Streets of France at Eid, Daily Express (Sept. 10, 2016, 5:26 PM),