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Letter to Godefridus de Graaf, President of the Senate - The Hague and The Netherlands

Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus co-Chairmen Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Heath Shuler (D-NC), and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) were joined by 7 other House Members in sending a letter to the President of the Dutch Senate expressing their deep concern over draft legislation that will prohibit ritual slaughter. The proposed legislation would be a grave intrusion on the religious freedom of nearly one million Muslims and 50,000 Jews in the Netherlands.

"The International Religious Freedom Caucus has long been involved with opposing the prohibition of ritual slaughter and protecting the precious religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims," said International Religious Freedom co-Chairman Franks. "A ban on the traditionally acceptable means of preparing both kosher and halal foods would represent a fundamental infringement of the rights of both Jews and Muslims living in the Netherlands, and I strongly urge the Dutch Senate to oppose this legislation."

"The International Religious Freedom Caucus has given my colleagues in Congress and me the opportunity to advocate for faithful people around the world to worship as they believe," said Rep. Shuler. "In this instance, we are advocating for the faithful to do something as simple as have access to religiously acceptable food. When religious ignorance or intolerance begins to impede on the ability of others to sustain themselves, we have a moral duty to become involved."

"Though I sympathize with efforts to make animal slaughter humane, prohibiting people from fulfilling a basic religious obligation such as keeping kosher is unjustifiable," added Rep. Berman. "If prominent animal rights organizations in this country have found that ritual slaughter is humane when done properly, I see no reason why the Dutch should infringe on the religious rights of hundreds of thousands of its citizens."

A plenary discussion was set for December 13 during a joint meeting of two Dutch Senate committees that have jurisdiction over the religious slaughter bill.

Full text of the letter is below:

December 9, 2011

The Honorable Godefridus de Graaf
President of the Senate
The Hague, The Netherlands

Dear Mr. President,

The United States and The Netherlands share values of freedom of expression, thought, conscience, and religion, which underpin both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. American traditions of religious liberty were inspired in part by Dutch colonists in New Netherland who, in 1657, issued the Flushing Remonstrance, asking that "the law of love, peace, and liberty" be extended to the exercise of all faiths. These principles are the reason The Netherlands has long been a place of refuge for those, such as Jews and Muslims, who have sought freedom and human rights. We are proud of these mutual ideals that distinguish our countries as true and lasting democracies.

We are troubled by upcoming legislation in the Dutch Senate regarding the prohibition of ritual slaughter. A ban on ritual slaughter would unnecessarily restrict the religious freedom of one million Muslims and 50,000 Jews in The Netherlands, and unequivocally challenge the democratic principles of religious freedom that both of our nations hold dear. We understand that the Party of Animals, which expressed concerns over slaughter without stunning, originally brought this legislation forth. In the United States, the Humane Society believes that ritual slaughter, when done properly, is just as humane as conventional methods that utilize stunning. Provisions in the U.S. Humane Slaughter Act allow for ritual slaughter without prior stunning. We believe we have addressed this issue in our legislature by balancing concerns for religious freedoms and animal welfare. It is our hope that you can consider a similarly crafted compromise.

While it is unlikely the intention, by restricting access of religiously acceptable food to Jews and Muslims, the Netherlands is violating the fundamental right of religious liberty to all faiths, as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR"), which the Netherlands ratified on December 11, 1978. A ban on kosher and halal slaughter would be an interference with the Article 18 right of Jews and Muslims to "manifest [their] religion or belief" in "observance [and] practice." This interference is not justified the interests balanced in Article 18 of "public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."

Facing a similar law in Austria, the Austrian Constitutional Court defined public order as "legal provisions which are essential for the functioning of cohabitation within a state." Accordingly, that court held that "[a]nimal welfare does not justify a ban on a thousands-of-years old tradition which tries to minimise pain and harm to the animal during the procedure." Id. If the Dutch parliament enacts this law, it will step outside of the international community's convention of exempting ritual slaughter from animal regulations.

As close friends of The Netherlands and mutual supporters of the democratic value of freedom of worship, it is our hope that the Dutch Senate defeats this bill that unfairly targets religious minorities and inhibits their ability to practice their faiths.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Rep. Trent Franks
Rep. Heath Shuler
Rep. Howard L. Berman
Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz
Rep. Ted Deutch
Rep. Shelley Berkley
Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney
Rep. Steve Rothman
Rep. Henry Waxman


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