A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Nonhuman Rights Project on ‘Colbert Report’

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Legal rights for animals?? Expect Stephen Colbert to be suitably shocked, horrified and appalled when, in character as the classic right-wing bloviator, he welcomes Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project as his special guest, Thursday evening, on The Colbert Report.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is seeking to have four chimpanzees – Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo – recognized as “legal persons” with the capacity for, at least, the fundamental right to bodily liberty. (If and when the courts recognize this, any or all of them could be moved to sanctuaries.)

Colbert, arguably the best satirist since Mark Twain, regularly goes after people, and especially big corporations, that abuse nonhuman animals.

Last year, for example, he went after Iowa Rep. Steve King, who’s pro-dogfighting, against evacuating pets in natural disasters, and was trying to block a proposed law to give egg-laying hens a few inches more space at factory farms.

And before that, he did a hilarious takedown of SeaWorld, noting that while a marine circus can be considered a legal person with legal rights, the animals who are held captive there cannot.

The Colbert Report

The best part of this one begins at around the two-minute mark. The earlier part, incidentally, is about a rather ill-conceived lawsuit by PETA, which was trying to get a federal judge to agree that the killer whales at SeaWorld are “slaves” according to the 13th Amendment.

The judge threw that case out because PETA was not prepared to address the key question of whether the orcas could be considered “legal persons.” And it’s exactly this critical issue that the Nonhuman Rights Project addresses in a series of lawsuits that were filed last December and that are currently working their way through the appellate courts of New York State.

The court cases were recently the cover story in the New York Times magazine.

The wheels of justice, as the saying goes, move slowly. Meanwhile, Tommy and Kiko are being kept in cages as pets, and Hercules and Leo are being used in laboratory experiments. Last week, however, one of the appellate courts entered two orders that favor the NhRP in Tommy’s case – one of them granting an injunction to prevent the chimpanzee’s “owners” from moving him out of state while his case proceeds.

When Steven Wise joins Stephen Colbert tomorrow, it will be just a week after the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation Hobby Lobby is protected by laws governing freedom of religion and has religious rights. Chimpanzees like Tommy, by comparison, who have advanced cognition, self-awareness and autonomy, have no legal rights at all.

Expect some first-rate debate and repartee when Colbert argues, in character, that humans and corporations are exceptional, and that other animals exist purely for our convenience and profit. Wise, with his typical dry but sharp wit, will respond that these animals exist for their own benefit, not ours.

The episode airs Thursday July 17th at 11.30 pm ET, and again at 1.30 am.

(Note: Here at Earth in Transition, we work closely with the Nonhuman Rights Project to help bring about a time when your capacity for legal rights does not depend on your species but, as they are with humans, on your cognitive abilities, your level of self-awareness and your autonomy.)