Direct democracy and religion

In 1892, the Swiss Animal Protection Association launched a popular initiative to ban the ritual slaughter of animals.

The elected representatives of the Swiss people; the Swiss Executive and the Swiss Parliament, opposed the initiative, but the people voted and on August 20th, 1893 ritual slaughter was banned.

Judaism requires the ritual slaughter of animals. Animals to be eaten by must be killed with sharp knife across the throat of the animal. Moslems also have a similar requirement.

Religious Jews, religious Moslems probably feel the same way, dislike the prohibition to kill the animals in the ritual way they have been doing for centuries.

The law in Switzerland now says that Jews and Moslems can kill the animals in the way prescribed by their religion, but only if they have been stunned first, in order to minimize their suffering.

Direct democracy means that the will of the majority must prevail. In direct democracy, laws and rules do not derive from God, Prophets, or Holy books; the people make the laws.

It is perfectly reasonable to believe in God, to believe God makes the rules, but it is also reasonable to believe rules must be made by men.

Religious people have a reasonable point in wanting to follow their beliefs and traditions. But the people who believe it is important to avoid animal suffering also may want to follow their direct democracy tradition of rule by the majority.

The issue with ritual religious slaughter is: what comes first; what the God-given or God-inspired holy books say, or what the majority of the people say?

In a democracy, the Ancient Greeks settled the issue2500 years ago. The Greeks decided that, in a direct democracy (Greek democracy was direct, not representative) the laws are made by men, not by the gods, by priests interpreting God-inspired books or by politicians or judges, and that the will of the majority must be the law of the land.

Just like ritual slaughter is important for the feelings of religious people, it is important for the feelings of people who believe in direct democracy that reasoned, openly discussed, not hurried, political decisions made by the majority of the people, must prevail

In Switzerland, those who want to practice ritual slaughter can gather the required signatures for a referendum and have the Swiss people vote again on the issue.

It would be not the first time the Swiss people change their minds. They did it with respect to the United Nations; in 1986 the Swiss decided not to join the UN but in 2002 they changed their minds and joined.

Some Jews have said anti-Semitism motivated the decision to ban ritual slaughter in Switzerland. I do not know, but even if that is the case, the argument is not about Jews but the way religious Jews want to practice ritual slaughter. The argument on the table is about animal suffering, not about Judaism.

Overall, it is much better for Jews in Switzerland to have the majority of Swiss decide to prohibit ritual slaughter than to have the political or judicial Swiss elites allow ritual slaughter against the will of the majority.

Direct democracy is about rule by the majority of the people while allowing any political, cultural, or religious minority to freely present their arguments in an atmosphere of rational debate and respect.


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