Singer on religious freedom

June 28, 2012

Peter Singer has penned an excellent article for Project Syndicate entitled “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom.” The background for the article is a recent proposal of the Party for the Animals, the only animal-rights party to be represented in a national parliament. The party has proposed a law requiring that all animals in the Netherlands be stunned before slaughter. In response to this proposal Islamic and Jewish leaders have united and spoken out in defense of their religious freedom, because their religious doctrines prohibit eating meat from animals that are not conscious when killed.

But would the proposed law, if enacted, really restrict the religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims? Singer’s answer is no for the simple reason that “neither Islam nor Judaism upholds a requirement to eat meat.”  In other words, Muslims and Jews in the Netherlands would still be completely free to practice their religion even if the proposed law were enacted, but if they wished to do so they would have to give up the habit of eating meat, which is completely consistent with the requirements of their religions. 

The argument here is a clever use of analytical reasoning. What looks like a fundamental conflict between religious teachings and social norms is, upon analysis, actually a conflict between religious teachings and bad habits for which there is no independent justification. And the solution to the “conflict,” when seen from this perspective, is very simple: give up the bad habits.

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