(JTA) – A group working to safeguard kosher slaughter in Britain warned of uncertainty surrounding its mission following the British vote to exit the European Union.
A spokesperson for Shechitah U.K. said Tuesday that he fears losing the European Union’s protections of “faith communities” or seeing kosher slaughter put to a vote in Parliament that might be influenced by critics of Jewish and Muslim techniques for slaughtering animals.
“While some European countries have implemented domestic legislation against shechitah and there was a danger that a wider precedent would be set,” Shechitah U.K. spokesman Shimon Cohen told JTA, Britain’s government “has always been guided by the European Union and the European Commission has put great emphasis on protecting faith communities.”
But if Britain leaves, Cohen said, its government “would either have to ask Parliament to adopt” EU regulations that exempt faith communities from certain regulations “or come up with its own law. Either way, if it goes to a vote in the House of Parliament, it’s a numbers game and the risks are very high.”
Shechitah, the Hebrew word for kosher slaughter, and the Muslim variant of the practice are facing attack in Europe because they are deemed by many to be cruel to animals since stunning is prohibited prior to slaughter.
Other opponents of ritual slaughter resent its proliferation following the arrival to Europe of millions of Muslims from the 1950s onward.
However, EU membership does not necessarily enshrine shechitah, as member states are free to dispense with the exemptions from EU regulations.
Opposition to schechitah led to a ban by the Netherlands in 2010, but it was overturned by the Dutch Senate in 2012. Also, the Polish parliament banned the practice in 2013, though the prohibition has since been partially overturned. The practice is currently illegal in two EU member states – Sweden and Denmark – as well as three other non-EU countries in Western Europe: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. EU members Finland, Austria and Estonia enforce strict supervision of the custom that some Jews there say make it nearly impossible.
In the debate leading up to the Brexit vote, advocates of remaining argued that staying in the EU assured protection for religious liberties. Supporters of an exit took the opposite view, citing legislation limiting religious freedoms on the continent.