Do elephants have moral and legal rights? According to five Catholic theologians, an elephant named Happy has the right to liberty. These leftist theologians submitted a brief to the New York Court of Appeals asking for the elephant’s release from the Bronx Zoo.
In cooperation with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), they state in their brief, “Happy is not a thing for us to confine, use, and put on display in a zoo (even in an attempt to produce a good outcome), but rather a particular kind of creature who God made to flourish in a particular way.”
“We believe Happy cannot flourish as this kind of creature while captive in the Bronx Zoo and that she would be significantly better able [to] become the kind of creature God made her to be in a sanctuary…Non-human animals belong to God, not to us. They are God’s creatures, not ours.”
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These theologians are Fr. Christopher Steck, SJ, Ph.D. (Georgetown University), John Berkman, Ph.D. (University of Toronto), Charles Camosy, Ph.D. (Fordham University), Allison Covey, Ph.D. (Villanova University) and Celia Deane-Drummond, Ph.D. (University of Notre Dame, University of Oxford).
Many other notables also supported the motion to release Happy, including far-left Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. A Bronx Supreme Court Justice, Alison Y Tuitt, has supported the motion. Speaking of the elephant, Justice Tuitt said, “She is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and who may be entitled to liberty.”
Subdue and Rule Over All Living Creatures
Many animal rights movements declare that man and animals are equal beings. This is not the case. Man is higher than all animals. God made man in His own image and likeness. Man also has an immortal soul and reason. Animals do not.
At the beginning of creation, God set man above the animals. In Genesis, He tells Adam and Eve, “Fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28)
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Although man is the ruler of the animal kingdom, inflicting needless suffering on animals is wrong.
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One bad effect of cruelty to animals is its harm to the soul of man. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that we should not be cruel to animals “lest anyone by exercising cruelty towards brutes may become cruel also toward men.” “Summa Contra Gentiles” (bk. II, cxii)
Do Animals Have Rights?
The theologians imply that Happy has the right to liberty. This opens the question of if animals have rights. Again, Catholic doctrine is clear; animals do not have rights. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Only a person, that is, a being possessed of reason and self-control, can be the subject of rights and duties.”
God made animals to render Himself glory but also for man to use and admire. Thus, animals are means to perfection and not an end. God created animals for man and not vice versa.
Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, “In the Divine plan of the universe, the lower creatures are subordinated to the welfare of man.” This is the truly balanced position of the Church.
An Attack on the Hierarchy of Creation
In the brief, the five theologians place man at the service of animals. They use the correct principle of not being cruel to animals and conclude with the error of treating an elephant with human dignity.
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This is an attack on the hierarchy God made in creation. In both the spiritual and material world, there are many inequalities. Angels are above men, men are above animals, animals are above plants, and plants are above minerals.
Animal rights activists wish to overturn these inequalities by putting animals on the same level as man. Happy the elephant is an animal without reason and cannot be compared to humans or given human rights.
Hypocrisy of the Animal Rights Movement
America’s moral fabric is skewed. Many in society clamor for the rights of animals. However, progressivists also clamor for the death of the unborn. The rights of the most innocent are trampled while animals are protected.
Why are Catholic theologians focusing their efforts on freeing an elephant while millions of children are slaughtered through abortion? This is a disordered set of values.
Society must fight for moral rights, not elephant rights. America must first return to order and steer toward an organic society. In a virtuous society, the salvation of man’s soul is paramount. Once society is well ordered, animal cruelty would naturally cease to exist. This is because a moral society is balanced. As society becomes more disordered, Catholics must be the pillars of order and not elephant advocates.
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