Editor's Note: Rick Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. This article is written in response to the op-ed Can animals be slaves? published on GPS last week.
By Rick Berman - Special to CNN
When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced that it was suing SeaWorld under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution for “enslaving” killer whales, the reaction was predictable: Derision. After all, it’s PETA - the same people who claim giving a kid a hamburger is child abuse. It’s just another media stunt, right?
In fact, we should be quite concerned about animal rights activism in the courts.
A longtime goal of the animal rights movement is to gain “standing” in court for animals. Under current law, animals are considered property. If you don’t feed your dog for a week, he can’t sue you - though, fortunately, you can be charged with animal cruelty. That’s because animals’ welfare is protected under law, even if animals don’t have the right to sue.
Standing - the first step in animal rights law - would allow an animal to directly bring action against a person. Of course, it’s not like a cow is going to file paperwork. Animals will have appointed - or self-anointed - representatives to speak for them.
Can you see where this is going? Let’s consider Switzerland.
Since the 1990s, the canton of Zurich has had an official government-appointed “animal lawyer” to represent the wishes of his “clients." It’s turned into a three-ring circus: A Swiss fisherman was hauled into court after it took him too long (10 minutes) to reel in a pike. This Swiss animal lawyer also “represented” fish used in a game show - because they weren’t treated with “dignity.”
Thankfully, in 2010 the Swiss voted down expanding “animal lawyers” to the whole country via referendum. We should learn from them. There are plenty of smarter, more sophisticated, and more fully clothed animal rights activists than PETA trying to change the legal system in the U.S. for the worse.
Consider that more than 100 law schools now offer animal law classes, including the top 10, when a few years ago almost no law school had such classes. There are more than 150 chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.
While this is the next generation, the animal rights philosophy has already manifested itself in positions of power. Cass Sunstein, who runs the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has written that animals should be given standing to sue humans in court (presumably with taxpayer funds for court-appointed lawyers).
“[A]nimals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law,” Sunstein has written. “Any animals that are entitled to bring suit would be represented by (human) counsel, who would owe guardian like obligations and make decisions, subject to those obligations, on their clients’ behalf.”
And who could those “representatives” for the animals be? Why, PETA, of course—the same folks comparing SeaWorld to a 19th Century slaveholder. It could also open the door for every other animal rights group sharing PETA’s agenda to tie up the court system.
Look at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Don’t let the name fool you - this group has no affiliation with your local humane society. It’s not a pet-shelter group, just PETA’s wealthy big brother. And it has close to 50 lawyers on staff. (How can it afford so many? In part because this “Humane Society” only gives 1 percent of the money it raises to pet shelters.)
Self-anointed groups that “speak for animals” like PETA and HSUS could go crazy in court. They could sue Old MacDonald back to the Stone Age. Those lawsuits over spilt hot coffee suddenly look reasonable by comparison.
The idea that the Constitution gives rights to animals is bogus. After all, in the times of our Founding Fathers people used horses for transport and whale oil. “We the People” is exclusive to humans. Bears do not have the right to bear arms.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rick Berman.