In a famous scene from the movie “The Naked Gun,” Leslie Nielsen tells a gathering crowd to “Move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.” Meanwhile, in the background, explosions erupt, fire consumes whole city blocks and the chaos he has unleashed fills the screen. I’m reminded of that scene every time I read the jeering and gibes of the press corps about farmers’ support of legislation which would preserve western civilization’s traditional understanding of the relationship between people and animals. We’re assured that farmers’ worries are just short of paranoia, and there’s nothing to see or worry about in the movement to protect animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like the buildings exploding on the movie screen, there is a movement in legal circles that should concern all of us.
Don’t believe me? Then perhaps the following examples will help.
Cass Sunstein is the “regulatory czar” in the Obama administration. In 2004, he wrote a book arguing, among other things, that animals should have legal standing to sue. Lawrence Tribe, the Harvard law professor who represented the Gore campaign before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, has also argued that animals should have the right to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court, the nation’s most liberal venue, has written approvingly of granting animals rights comparable to humans. In a recent losing court case, lawyers for the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals argued on the behalf of the killer whales at Sea World that the whales have constitutional rights and are protected by the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery.
A recent article by a couple of medical ethicists made an argument on similar grounds. They contend that since abortion is legal, there is no rational basis for outlawing infanticide. They maintain that human infants should have less legal standing than certain animals, because the animals are aware, and infants are not. Although the article caused a stir and has been disavowed by almost everybody involved, the mindset leading to such an outrageous conclusion is gaining ground in the kind of academic writing that often has real world consequences.
Speaking of real world consequences, a bill has recently been introduced in the Missouri Legislature to elevate the failure to report animal cruelty to the same level of crime as the failure to report the abuse of the disabled, the elderly and children. No one should ever ignore cruelty to animals, but surely our laws should continue to make a distinction between mistreatment of animals and the abuse of grandparents in hospitals or children at daycare. There is something to see here, and legislation that stakes out common sense understandings about the relationship between animals and people is needed. We have to act now in order to protect values so obvious to most of us.
This is why Missouri Farm Bureau strongly supports bills moving through the Missouri Legislature that would protect Missourians’ right to raise livestock, and why we support a bill that would codify the legal distinction between people and animals. A few short years ago I would have agreed with those who poke fun at farmers for supporting preemptive protections against animal rights activists. In a more rational world than the one we live in, we could depend on common sense to prevail. Those times are gone. We live in a world where ridiculous ethical and legal theorizing all too often find their way into our courts and onto our ballots. If it is possible to compare killer whales to human slaves, nothing can be taken for granted. We must act now to stand up for traditional values and all too uncommon common sense.