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Animal Rights: A Dangerous Aspect of Our New Secular Religion

Zimbabwe Lion Killed

–Image Credit: Associated Press

Those convinced the Inquisition died out hundreds of years ago may be surprised by the emergence of the all-powerful Twitter mob. While those found in violation of the tenets of the pope were rarely actually tortured or killed, death threats and career-ending protests now target our modern apostates, with a vehemence rarely seen since the Salem witch trials.

The elevation of “animal rights” to a semi-sacrosanct belief has taken many casualties, like the freedom and livelihood of a certain American dentist — but more on that later. Religious liberty, historic tradition, and even — ironically — the lives of animals have been taken hostage by this all-consuming movement.

None of this is to say that animals do not deserve fair treatment. They do, and humans should be accountable for treating them well. Christian doctrine holds that men and women are to be stewards of God’s creation, and should treat animals well as a result. The difference between the historic reverence for animals and the newfound secular movement lies in the position of man, and human concerns above — or below — the creatures we are obligated to protect.

Cecil and the Twitter Enforcement Mob

The story of “Cecil the lion” has taken Western media and animal-rights vigilantes by storm, much to the surprise of people in the lion’s native Zimbabwe. The death of Cecil, a 13-year-old lion tourist attraction for Zimbabwe, tagged for study by Oxford University, has drawn a wave of international indignation. In early July, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot and killed Cecil, after hiring local guides to allegedly lead the lion away from its legal sanctuary.

“Hunting is a coward’s pastime,” alleged People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President Ingrid Newkirk. “If, as has been reported, the dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and preferably, hanged.”

Why Cecil Matters More than Aborted Babies, Credit Facebook, Catholic Memes

Why Cecil Matters More than Aborted Babies, Credit Facebook, Catholic Memes

As RealClearPolitics’ Heather Wilhelm has noted, the outrage did not stop there. “Actress Debra Messing argued for revoking Dr. Palmer’s citizenship; Sharon Osborne, who is married to a man who once bit the head off a bat, called for the eradication of Palmer’s home, business, and money.” Even late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who argued against “a witch hunt for the guy,” did not restrain himself from calling Palmer “vomitous,” and “the most hated man in America who never advertised Jell-O pudding on television.”

Twitter vigilantes gladly joined in the character assassination, unleashing a storm of hatred and death threats. Some Twitter users have fantasized about shooting Palmer with his own crossbow and murdering him with his own dental implements. Protesters tracked down Palmer’s practice and left stuffed animals, threats, and hate mail at the site. Nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition on WhiteHouse.gov to have the dentist extradited.

And 159 people have petitioned the review website Yelp to allow them to post negative Cecil-focused reviews of Palmer’s dentistry practice. Some of these reviews call Palmer “a gun-toting redneck murderer,” a “f***ing waste of sperm,” and “a true example of everything that is wrong in this world.”

Palmer himself has closed his business and gone into hiding.

None of this excuses Dr. Palmer’s poaching, but can’t we acknowledge it is a bit over the top? This act may have violated Zimbabwe’s law and hampered an Oxford study. But many find the punishment ill befitting the crime.

Kendall Jones: Twitter Doesn’t Care if It’s Legal

A similar backlash victimized a 19-year-old hunter and cheerleader, Kendall Jones, last year, even though her hunting trips were well within the bounds of the law. Jones didn’t kill a famous tourist attraction with a name, or an animal with a central role in an Oxford study, but the attacks she suffered were arguably worse.

Jones’s mortal sin was a photo-op — all she did was post pictures of herself with her kills on Facebook. “Animal rights” activists crossposted the pictures and petitioned Facebook to remove them, which it did. But the “Shaming Industrial Complex” had just gotten started.

A Change.org petition to “Help stop Kendall Jones from hunting in Africa” has garnered 177,036 supporters. One commenter said Jones “deserves to be shot in the same cruel manner in which she shoots these beautiful and innocent animals…without mercy!!” The top comment, with 261 likes, declares, “I say, give her a rock, throw her in the pen and let’s even the odds.”

The Kendall Jones hatred even sparked a new Facebook page — “Kill Kendall Jones.” After some outrage, the page was mysteriously taken down, but not before it garnered over 1,000 likes.

Jones now has an online hunting show, and recently defended her hunting in a video at DeerFest 2015. Not only do Jones and her family pay a good deal of money for permits and licenses, they also make sure the kills help the local ecosystem. Professional hunters guide Jones on each of her big-game hunting trips, advising her “which one you need to shoot,” based off of “how old it is, the genetics they have, if they’re a problem — you take the one that’s needed to be taken.”

Her hunting trips, far from endangering animal populations, actually perform a vital part of conservation.

Nevertheless, Delta Airlines has joined the internet outrage, and banned hunters from carrying their big-game kills on its airplanes back to the States. American Airlines and United have also announced similar policies.

No matter how misplaced, the public outrage may represent a return to mankind’s historical use of shame to enforce morality, as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg argues. Before the rule of law held citizens and governments alike accountable to a cultural morality, word of mouth allowed public shaming to keep primitive farmers from damaging one another’s lands or stealing one another’s wives.

The return of such shaming — from the outrage about Cecil the lion and Kendall Jones, to the hack of married cheating site AshleyMadison, to the Twitter firestorm against Memories Pizza for theoretically denying to cater a gay wedding earlier this year — represents the resurgence of a culture of moral indignation. In itself, this may be a good thing, but when it serves the secular pseudo-religion of modern liberalism, it can enforce a particularly dangerous conformity.

The “Animal Rights” Attack on Religious Freedom

Some countries have pitted the claims of animals against religious freedom, and found the faith of humans wanting. In the words of Danish Minister for Agriculture and Food Dan Jorgensen, “Animal rights come before religion.”

Last year, Denmark passed a law mandating that all animals be stunned before their deaths. The animal rights movement claimed that this would make their deaths painless and therefore decrease cruelty to animals. The original law had an important exemption for religious-based slaughter — both Jews and Muslims cannot eat animals killed in this way.

Last month, the exemption was dropped, effectively outlawing the ritual slaughter and preparation of animals for both Jews and Muslims. Jewish and Muslim leaders have united to oppose the ban, calling it a “clear interference in religious freedom” and “a serious and severe blow to the Jewish faith and to the Jews of Denmark.”

In an op-ed for Time magazine, Imam Khalid Latif, a Muslim university chaplain for New York University and co-founder of an organic halal butcher shop, explained why halal food is honoring to animals. “In Islam, all of creation, including animals and plants, have rights that are supposed to be honored,” Latif explained.

Halal requires three things — that the person killing the animal be Muslim, Jewish, or Christian; that a sharp cutting edge slices the animal’s primary veins, allowing for “an instantaneous and painless death”; and that the name of Allah is mentioned at the slaughter.

Stunning animals, by contrast, “causes pain before it results in unconsciousness and also has the potential of being lethal enough to kill the animal,” Latif argues. If the animal dies in this way, Muslims (and Jews) are forbidden to eat it.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, kosher administrator for the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher-certifying organization in the world, also claimed his faith’s method of slaughter is more humane. “If the animal is killed in a steady stroke,” Genak said, “it becomes insensate almost immediately. When the animal is stunned, you can see signs of pain significantly higher. So kosher slaughter may be more humane.”

Is the “Animal Rights” Movement Really Humane?

On the other side of conservation-based killing and religious freedom, one finds People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

In 2012, the Atlantic reported on one of PETA’s main “humane” activities — taking animals in and putting them to death. Of 760 dogs impounded in 2011, they killed 713 — and the numbers for cats were even worse. As the Atlantic’s James McWilliams reported, “as for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanized 1,198, transferred eight, and found homes for a grand total of five.”

PETA spokeswoman Amanda Schinke presented this as a mere matter of numbers — PETA turns no animal away, and unfortunately there just aren’t enough people to take in the unwanted animals. Nathan Winograd, a Stanford Law graduate, former corporate lawyer and author of Irreconcilable Differences: The Battle for the Heart and Soul of America’s Animal Shelters, calls this a boldfaced lie.

“It is a lie because testimony under oath in court from a veterinarian showed that PETA was given healthy and adoptable animals who were later found dead by PETA’s hands, their bodies unceremoniously thrown away in a supermarket dumpster,” Winograd told the Atlantic.

Maintaining Religious Orthodoxy

Amid the cries of outrage over the death of one lion, one hears a tremendous silence about the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims, and the senseless killing of thousands of “unadoptable” animals.

Meanwhile, a vigorous debate has erupted in many Latin-influenced countries over the practice of bullfighting. Those who were once heroes in the ring have now been called butchers.

One former matador who was paralyzed in a bullfight has become Colombia’s most famous anti-bullfighting politician, Medellin city councillor Alvaro Munera. He recalls a turning point in his life, meeting his friend’s aunt in Florida.

“She stood there looking right into my eyes,” Munera said, “and without a tremble she said, ‘You know what? I love that you are in a wheelchair. I hope you never get up from there because you are a barbarian…a cruel assassin.’”

Such vehemence, like the eruptions of vitriol following the death of Cecil the lion, can only come from true believers — those who honestly cherish what they view as animal rights over the health, faith, and traditions of humans they consider their foes.

While few of us would defend poaching or even bullfighting, we cannot pretend that one side is perfectly innocent and another entirely guilty unless we overlook the facts. PETA must be right, religious slaughter must be wrong, and those who violate the law must be shamed, terrorized, and put to death.

These are not the results of a scientific study or a political debate, but the tenets of a religion, and a terrifying religion at that.