A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Missouri Law Would Ensure No Rights to Nonhumans

Missouri Attorney General Koster at a puppy mill raid

A bill working its way through the Missouri legislature would prevent any future legislation in the state from granting “human-like” rights to animals.

The proposed bill, which was passed by the House on March 12th by a vote of 116 to 33, says:

“The laws of this state shall not confer upon any animal a right, privilege, or legal status that is equivalent or that exceeds a right, privilege, or legal status as that which this state confers by law upon a human being. This provision shall not be construed as limiting laws that protect the welfare of animals in the state.”

State representative Ward Franz said his bill is prompted by “outside animal-rights organizations coming into the state trying to impose their will on Missouri’s people and businesses.”

Primarily, he’s referring to Proposition B, the 2010 ballot initiative that gave added protection to dogs in puppy mills. It required, for example, that dogs be fed at least once a day, that they be examined at least once a year by a veterinarian, and that they be housed indoors and with free access to an outside area.

But after voters approved the measure, the legislature struck it down, leaving it to the Governor to broker a compromise that gave the puppy mills most of what they wanted.

Franz also cited the recent PETA lawsuit claiming that orcas at SeaWorld should be protected by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that bans slavery and involuntary servitude. Although the judge threw out the case, Franz worried that animal protection groups could file suits against farmers or pursue legislation granting human-like rights to livestock.

“With the climate in our country,” he said in an interview on the Pork Network, “it’s getting kind of scary for people who put their careers on the line trying to make a living in agriculture.”

On his blog at the Nonhuman Rights Project, animal law attorney Steven Wise points to the irony of the fact that, just a week before the bill passed the Missouri House, the Speaker, Steven Tilley, announced that a statue of Dred Scott would stand in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the Capitol Rotunda. Wise writes:

Dred Scott, of course, was the slave the United States Supreme Court held in 1856 could not sue in Federal Court because he was not a citizen of the United States. A slave code deprived black slaves of legal rights in Missouri. They were considered personal property. If they resisted their masters they were lashed 39 times. They were not permitted to testify at a trial involving whites. It was a crime to teach them to read.

Few know Scott sued for his freedom in state court. In 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court kept him in bondage, while helpfully noting that slavery hurts the master far more than it harms the slave and that it was God’s way of lifting up the savage Negro by placing him amongst God’s civilized people, the white folks of Missouri.

Wise calls the proposed statute “legally and biologically incoherent.” The one thing that’s clear is the the intention of the bill.

Despite the amateurish attempt, we know what was intended and why. Some Missourians are worried that, in 2012, a nonhuman slave might try to secure a legal right in Missouri that would make it more difficult to brutally exploit him, the same thing a human slave tried unsuccessfully, in 1852, to do.