BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A requirement that ritual slaughtering of animals without stunning must be done in approved slaughterhouses does not curb religious freedom, an EU court adviser said on Thursday, weighing in on a debate watched closely by Muslims in Belgium.
The opinion by European Court of Justice Advocate General Nils Wahl concerns the use of temporary slaughterhouses established and approved in the Belgian Flemish region each year for the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha.
Temporary plants were set up for the three day festival to meet the increased demand for ritual slaughtering.
The minister for animal welfare in the Belgian Flemish region of Flanders in 2014 said the region would no longer approve temporary slaughterhouses because it was not in line with European Union legislation.
Several Muslim organizations and mosques complained that this infringed their right to religious freedom because there were not enough plants to meet the high demand.
Wahl has said that EU legislation requiring ritual slaughtering to be carried out in approved slaughterhouses is a neutral rule that does not discriminate based on religion.
“The obligation to ensure that all slaughter locations are approved… is perfectly neutral and applies to any party that organises slaughtering,” a news release of Wahl’s opinion said.
“Legislation that applies in a neutral manner, with no connection to religious convictions, cannot in principle be regarded as a limitation on freedom of religion.”
Wahl said it was not for the court to decide if stunning animals before slaughter was prohibited in the Muslim faith.
European Court of Justice judges tend to follow the advice given by the advocate general, but they are not required to do so.
The case comes as the Belgian Jewish Community this week filed a lawsuit against a law passed in May by the Belgian French-speaking region of Wallonia banning the kosher slaughter of animals.
Flanders, where half of Belgium’s Jews live, passed a law outlawing religious slaughter in July, which includes both kosher and halal slaughter.
(Reporting by Lily Cusack, Editing by William Maclean)