Legislation banning the ritual religious slaughter of animals is set to go into force in 2019.
The Belgian Jewish community on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging legislation passed last year by the regional parliament in Flanders banning the slaughter of unstunned animals, which outlaws shechita according to Jewish law as well as Islamic halal practice.
The lawsuit, filed by the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, the Belgian section of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, follows a lawsuit submitted in November against similar legislation passed by the parliament of the Walloon region.
The lawsuit argues that the legislation violates EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Belgian Constitution itself, all of which guarantee freedom of religion.
The European Court of Human Rights has previously described kosher slaughter as “an essential aspect of practice of the Jewish religion,” legal think tank the Lawfare Project, which is supporting the lawsuit, noted.
A press release published by the Lawfare Project on Tuesday said that Jewish communities have painful memories of attacks on their religious freedoms, recalling that in 1933, less than three months after Hitler came to power, the Nazis banned kosher slaughter in Germany.
The Walloon region passed legislation in May banning unstunned slaughter. Flanders, where half of Belgium’s Jews live and where the majority of Belgium’s kosher facilities provide meat for Jewish communities in Belgium and beyond, followed suit in July.
Yohan Benizri, the president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, who submitted the lawsuit, said:
“Legislators have given Belgian Jews a worrisome political signal, by trumping their right to practice their faith, in violation of the crucial principle of separation of church and state. That’s very sad, but it is also unlawful. It is a violation of European legal norms, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and we are hopeful it will be overturned as such. If this legislation ever comes into force it would be a dark day for freedom in Belgium.”
Brooke Goldstein, the executive director of the Lawfare Project, said:
“Belgian Jews cannot remain silent while their religious freedoms are trampled and nor should anyone else. Laws preventing Belgian citizens from peacefully practicing their faith will do nothing to heal the divisions in Belgian society and are an embarrassment to Belgium.”
The Coordinating Council of Islamic Institutions in Belgium has also filed a lawsuit against the legislation.