We have come a long way from Brigitte Bardot protesting the killing of baby harp seals in the Saint Lawrence estuary back in 1973 while the United States Supreme Court was finding a right for abortion-0n-demand in a woman’s ‘right to privacy.’
I have had my share of fun telling or listening to jokes based on the theories and activities of the organization, PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, but the subject is no longer something to joke about.
I have no problem with the idea contained in the title of that organization, the idea that animals should always be treated ETHICALLY by human beings.  My problem with PETA is their advocacy of animal RIGHTS.  As long as PETA simply argued philosophically for animal rights I was willing to engage them in debate.  Now, however, their advocacy of animal rights has moved from the area of philosophy to the arena of civil and criminal law.

In the article by J. WESLEY  SMITH, shown at the end of this post,  we learn that a member of the Obama administration is pushing legislation which will codify animal rights in Federal law.  The consequences of that becoming a reality are frightening to contemplate for American society.

In the following except from Wikipedia’s article on ANIMAL RIGHTS we read that Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby argues “that the (PETA) movement has reached the stage the gay rights movement was at 25 years ago.”  If that is true, then we have only to look at what is happening to marriage to understand what the future may hold in terms of man’s relation to animals.


“Animal rights, also referred to as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings.[2] Advocates approach the issue from different philosophical positions but agree that animals should be viewed as legal persons and members of the moral community, not property, and that they should not be used as food, clothing, research subjects, or entertainment.[3]

The idea of awarding rights to animals has the support of legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School,[4] while Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby argues that the movement has reached the stage the gay rights movement was at 25 years ago.[5] Animal law is taught in 112 out of 180 law schools in the United States, in eight law schools in Canada, and is routinely covered in universities in philosophy or applied ethics courses.[6] In June 2008, Spain became the first country to introduce animal rights legislation, when a cross-party parliamentary committee voted to extend rights to the great apes, in accordance with Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project.[7]

Critics argue that animals are unable to enter into a social contract or make moral choices, and therefore cannot be regarded as possessors of rights, a position summed up by the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only human beings have duties, and that, “[the] corollary is inescapable: we alone have rights.”[8] A parallel argument is that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals as resources if there is no unnecessary suffering, a view known as the animal welfare position.[9] There has also been criticism, including from within the animal rights movement itself, of certain forms of animal rights activism, in particular the destruction of fur farms and animal laboratories by the Animal Liberation Front.”

[WIKIPEDIA, Animal Rights]

Here is what the Catechism has to say about man’s relation to animals.  While the Catechism does not specifically address the subject of animals possessing souls of the same nature as man, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is clear in teaching that only human beings are made up of body and soul, “made in the image and likeness of God”

“371 God created man and woman together and willed each for the other. The Word of God gives us to understand this through various features of the sacred text. “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.” None of the animals can be man’s partner. The woman God “fashions” from the man’s rib and brings to him elicits on the man’s part a cry of wonder, an exclamation of love and communion: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Man discovers woman as another “I”, sharing the same humanity.

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

2416 Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

2457 Animals are entrusted to man’s stewardship; he must show them kindness. They may be used to serve the just satisfaction of man’s needs.”



Rather than cite Catholic sources in support of the Church’s position with regard to animal rights, I would prefer to cite the secular debate betwen JUDGE RICHARD POSNER  and PHILOSOPHER PETER SINGER.  It should be noted that Peter Singer denies the unborn human child has any rights while he is willing to accord full legal rights to animals, born or unborn.

“Posner–Singer debate
Judge Richard Posner argues that “facts will drive equality.”[99]

Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit debated the issue of animal rights with Peter Singer on Slate.[99] Posner argues that his moral intuition tells him that human beings prefer their own. If a dog threatens a human infant, even if it requires causing more pain to the dog to stop it, than the dog would have caused to the infant, then we favour the child. It would be “monstrous to spare the dog,” he argues.

Singer challenges Posner’s moral intuition by arguing that formerly unequal rights for gays, women, and certain races were justified using the same set of intuitions. Posner replies that equality in civil rights did not occur because of ethical arguments, but because facts mounted that there were no morally significant differences between humans based on race, sex, or sexual orientation that would support inequality. If and when similar facts emerge about the difference, or lack thereof, between humans and animals, the differences in rights will erode too. But facts will drive equality, not ethical arguments that run contrary to instinct, he argues.

Posner calls his approach “soft utilitarianism,” in contrast to Singer’s “hard utilitarianism.” He argues: “The “soft” utilitarian position on animal rights is a moral intuition of many, probably most, Americans. We realize that animals feel pain, and we think that to inflict pain without a reason is bad. Nothing of practical value is added by dressing up this intuition in the language of philosophy; much is lost when the intuition is made a stage in a logical argument. When kindness toward animals is levered into a duty of weighting the pains of animals and of people equally, bizarre vistas of social engineering are opened up.”[99]

The British philosopher Roger Scruton argues that rights imply obligations. Every legal privilege, he writes, imposes a burden on the one who does not possess that privilege: that is, “your right may be my duty.” Scruton therefore regards the emergence of the animal rights movement as “the strangest cultural shift within the liberal worldview,” because the idea of rights and responsibilities are, he argues, distinctive to the human condition, and it makes no sense to spread them beyond our own species.[8]

He accuses animal rights advocates of “pre-scientific” anthropomorphism, attributing traits to animals that are, he says, Beatrix Potter-like, where “only man is vile.” It is within this fiction that the appeal of animal rights lies, he argues. The world of animals is non-judgmental, filled with dogs who return our affection almost no matter what we do to them, and cats who pretend to be affectionate when, in fact, they care only about themselves. It is, he argues, a fantasy, a world of escape.[8]”

[WIKIPEDIA, Animal Rights]


Here is the article by J. WESLEY SMITH which started me off on this post about
animal rights:

“So Three Cows Walk into Court .  .  .
Animal-rights extremism in the Obama entourage is no joke.
by Wesley J. Smith
07/20/2009, Volume 014, Issue 41

Imagine you are a cattle rancher looking for liability insurance. You meet with your broker, who, as expected, asks a series of questions to gauge your suitability for coverage:

Have you ever been sued by your cattle?

If the answer is yes, what was the outcome of that suit?

Have you received any correspondence or other communication from your herd’s legal representatives threatening suit or seeking to redress any legal grievance?

If you think that’s a ridiculous scenario, that animals suing their owners could never happen, think again. For years, the animal rights movement has quietly agitated to enact laws, convince the government to promulgate regulations, or obtain a court ruling granting animals the “legal standing” to drag their owners (and others) into court.

Animals are not (yet) legal persons or rights-bearing beings, hence, they lack standing to go to court to seek legal redress. That procedural impediment prevents animal rights activists from attacking animal industries “from within,” as, for example, by representing lab rats in class action lawsuits against research labs. This lack of legal standing forces attorneys in the burgeoning field of animal law–who are dedicated to impeding, and eventually destroying, all animal industries–to find other legal pretexts by which to bring their targets directly into court.

In 2006, the Humane Society of the United States–which has no affiliation with local humane societies–brought a lawsuit against Hudson Valley Foie Gras contending the company permitted bird feces to pollute the Hudson River. The Humane Society of the United States isn’t an environmental group, so why were they suing about pollution? The answer is that the animal rights group considers its legal adversary to be a “notorious factory farm.” But because it had no standing to bring a private case against Hudson Valley as guardians for the farm’s ducks, but still wanting to impede the farm’s operation, the Humane Society availed itself of the private right to sue directly as permitted under the Clean Water Act.

But imagine if the farm’s ducks could sue the farm. The Humane Society or any other animal rights group–who, after all, would be the true litigants–could sue the company into oblivion. Indeed, if animals were granted legal standing, the harm that animal rights activists could do to labs, restaurant chains, mink farms, dog breeders, animal parks, race tracks, etc., would be worse than the destruction wrought by tort lawsuits against the tobacco industry. No wonder animal rights activists salivate at the prospect of animals being allowed to sue.

Animal standing has friends in some surprisingly high places–including potentially at the highest levels of the Obama administration. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, recently announced he was holding up the confirmation of law professor Cass Sunstein–a close friend of the president rumored to be on the fast track for the Supreme Court–as the White House’s “regulations czar.” The reason: Sunstein explicitly advocates animals’ being granted legal standing.

In a 2004 book which he edited, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, Sunstein wrote:

It seems possible .  .  . that before long, Congress will grant standing to animals to protect their own rights and interests. .  .  . Congress might grant standing to animals in their own right, partly to increase the number of private monitors of illegality, and partly to bypass complex inquiries into whether prospective human plaintiffs have injuries in fact [required to attain standing]. Indeed, I believe that in some circumstances, Congress should do exactly that, to provide a supplement to limited public enforcement efforts.

It is worth noting that Sunstein’s commitment to animal standing has been sustained over time. He made a similar argument in an article published in the UCLA Law Review in 2000. His support for animal rights also extends to an explicit proposal in a 2007 speech to outlaw hunting other than for food, stating, “That should be against the law. It’s time now.”

The idea of giving animals standing seems to be growing on the political left, perhaps because it would be so harmful to business interests. Laurence H. Tribe, the eminent Harvard Law School professor, has spoken supportively of the concept. On February 8, 2000, less than a year before his Supreme Court appearance on behalf of Vice President Al Gore in the aftermath of the Florida vote controversy, Tribe delivered a speech praising animal rights lawyer Stephen Wise and arguing on behalf of granting animals the right to sue:

Recognizing that animals themselves by statute as holders of rights would mean that they could sue in their own name and in their own right. .  .  . Such animals would have what is termed legal standing. Guardians would ultimately have to be appointed to speak for these voiceless rights-holders, just as guardians are appointed today for infants, or for the profoundly retarded. .  .  . But giving animals this sort of “virtual voice” would go a long way toward strengthening the protection they will receive under existing laws and hopefully improved laws, and our constitutional history is replete with instances of such legislatively conferred standing.

But animal rights lawyers aren’t waiting until the law is changed before enlisting animals as litigants. While these efforts have so far been turned back by the courts, they have received respectful hearings on appeal. In 2004, an environmental lawyer sued in the name of the “Cetacean Community”–allegedly consisting of all the world’s whales, porpoises, and dolphins–seeking an injunction preventing the federal government from conducting underwater sonar tests. When a trial court found that the “Community” had no standing, the case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where anything can happen. The court refused to grant the whales and dolphins standing, but in language that must have warmed every animal liberationist’s heart, it stated that theoretically, animals could attain the right to sue:

It is obvious that an animal cannot function as a plaintiff in the same manner as a juridically competent human being. But we see no reason why Article III [of the U.S. Constitution] prevents Congress from authorizing suit in the name of an animal any more than it prevents suits brought in the name of artificial persons such as corporations, partnerships or trusts, and even ships, or of juridically incompetent persons such as infants, juveniles and mental incompetents.

Of all the ubiquitous advocacy thrusts by animal rights advocates, obtaining legal standing for animals would be the most damaging–which makes Sunstein’s appointment to the overseer of federal regulations so worrisome and Senator Chambliss’s hold on the nomination so laudable. Chambliss plans to meet with the nominee personally “to provide him the opportunity to fully explain his views.” Chambliss said:

Professor Sunstein’s recommendation that animals should be permitted to bring suit against their owners with human beings as their representatives, is astounding in its display of a total lack of common sense. American farmers and ranchers would face a tremendous threat from frivolous lawsuits. Even if claims against them were found to be baseless in court, they would still bear the financial costs of reckless litigation. That’s a cost that would put most family farming and ranching operations out of business.

But animal standing would do more than just plunge the entire animal industry sector into chaos. In one fell swoop, it would both undermine the status of animals as property and elevate them with the force of law toward legal personhood. On an existential level, the perceived exceptional importance of human life would suffer a staggering body blow by erasing one of the clear legal boundaries that distinguishes people from animals. This is precisely the future for which animal rights/liberationists devoutly yearn.”

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute. His A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of Animal Rights will be published in January.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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