Acton Commentary

Kangaroo Courts? Litigation and Animal Rights


Genesis 1 (NIV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Man is set indominion over animals. The Bible tells us so; nature and experience confirmthis truth. But along with man's place of authority, God also placed a correspondingresponsibility, a task of stewardship.As such, animals are an integral part of our lives. By federal law, weeven have designated 1,250 animals as endangered because of their scarcity andimportance in our environment.

However, somepeople's take on how exactly humans ought to manifest this stewardship canborder on the absurd. Game showhost Bob Barker, a long-time advocate (and rightly so) for the responsibleownership of pet cats and dogs, lastweek endowed a $1 million fund at the Duke Law School to study “animalrights law.” This gift is the mostrecent in a string of such endowments by the popular host of “The Price IsRight.” In a society already beset by lawsuits, Barker's encouragement oflitigation ultimately threatens to undermine the sensibility of his soundadvice at the end of every episode, “Have your pet spayed or neutered.”

And some peopletreat their pet as if it were their own four-legged child. Others even confidesecrets to Fido, certain that the dog understands perfectly what the ownerreveals. There may be a bit too much attachment if, for instance, you believeyour dog is reading your mind, or if you plan vacations specifically for yourpet. Even airlines are getting into the act , as Israel'sEl Al Airlines in 2001 became the first international airline to introduce afrequent flyer plan for animals. Such actions may be relatively harmless, if a bit strange. But others, such asthe Animal Liberation Front (ALF), don'twant to rely on such benign measures. ALF thinks no animal should ever beconfined. So they have forcibly released from legitimate confinement as many aspossible. The FBI said the ALF has committed 600 crimes in recent years. Some activists have made disturbing headway in restricting our military fromconducting training exercises to test weapons systems where animals wereconcerned. They have used such laws as the Endangered Species Act and theMarine Mammal Protection Act to limit how troops can use their bases fortraining.The Marine Mammal Protection Act is being used to block the Navy from usinganti-submarine systems that are employed to detect the quiet diesel submarines,which are part of the armed forces of North Korea and Iran. Because theanti-sub equipment might “harass” whales and sea lions, deployment of themodern sonar system has been delayed for years. As lovely and graceful as deer are, we know they are trampling over our cities'lawns as well as our woods in increasing numbers. Unless harvested, almost anyanimal species that multiplies in overwhelming numbers will begin to starve todeath. Deer have nearly quadrupled in the past generation. The Wall StreetJournal reportedrecently that deer are destroying the nation's forests by eating seedlings,thereby preventing regeneration.

In the case ofsome animals--such as bears--they can maraud, kill livestock and eventerrorize. New Jersey's Fish and Game Council voted earlier this year to permitthe first bear hunt in 33 seasons. In their frantic search for food, the bearswere breaking into houses and attacking residents. One couple was killed by ablack bear. But the position of many contemporary animal-rights advocates, self-righteousas some are, appears questionable when we look back in history. Bird lovers, onthe other hand, have legitimate concerns. Of the 485 animal species reportedlyto become extinct since 1600, nearly a quarter of them have been birds.Undoubtedly the most notorious case of man's mistreatment of virtually anyspecies--even including the slaughter of the buffalo in the late1800s--is the slaughter of the Carrier Pigeon. This is a dramatic example of what happens when man clashes ignorantly withnature. Carrier pigeons once comprised a third of all birds in the U.S. Earlyexplorers wrote of “infinite multitudes” as much a mile in width taking hoursto pass overhead.“ But by the early 1900s, no wild passenger pigeon existed. In April of 1873 in Saginaw, Michigan, a continuous stream of the birds soaredbetween 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., it was reported. Their roosting sites wereenormous; covering five by 12 miles with so many nesting in a single tree theirweight broke the branches. Some estimates were that passenger pigeons numberedin the billions. When western Michigan was running out of lumber as its main resource, it tookadvantage of passenger pigeons as a cash crop. During 1874 one county aloneshot, trapped and sent over one million birds to markets in the East, accordingto Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World . Even these unbelievably vast flocks ofbirds (which seemed inexhaustible) could not last. Animals will always be a joy--and in some instances aproblem--depending on how we perceive them and treat them. We ought to focus on sensible solutionsfor managing wildlife and practice personal responsibility over our pets. Do we need a new generation of lawyersto protect “animal rights”?