Poland's special court rules that ritual slaughter of animals violates constitution

A top court in Poland said Tuesday that the ritual slaughter of animals by religious groups, including Jews and Muslims, violates the country's constitution and animal protection laws.

The ruling puts it in conflict with European Union rules that allow the practice on the grounds of religious freedom.

In a victory for animal rights activists, the Constitutional Tribunal said regulations allowing for animals to have their throats cut and then bleed to death without previously being stunned are against Polish law. It also said that in issuing regulations that allow for such practices, the agriculture minister exceeded his powers and violated the constitution.

The ruling sets the stage for more discussion when an EU law goes into effect Jan. 1 allowing the practice and setting common standards among members. It gives animal rights supporters fuel for debate next year on whether Poland must comply with EU laws and to what extent.

Poland introduced its regulations in 2004, when it joined the EU, intending to bring the national laws closer to those of the bloc.

The Agriculture Ministry has provided licenses to 17 slaughterhouses to carry out the ritual. Poland has small Muslim and Jewish minorities and also exports meat from ritual slaughter.

In a similar dispute in the Netherlands, the lower house of parliament approved a ban last year. Animal rights groups and a large anti-Islam political party — and a majority of Dutch voters — supported the bill. But after an outcry that the ban would violate religious freedoms, support evaporated when the bill was sent to the upper house.