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Animal Law, Animal Welfare

Wesley J. Smith Gets the Nonhuman Rights Project All Wrong

Wesley J. Smith published an (unintentionally) hilarious blog post, “Infanticide is Okay But Peter Singer Says Chimps Should Have Human Rights” in response to Peter Singer’s thoughtful opinion piece, “Chimpanzees Are People Too.” There’s a lot wrong with Smith’s article. Take the following:

“Singer simply asserts that chimps are persons because of their intelligence and supposed rudimentary moral sense.  (No way are chimps moral agents. Only we are.) He then invokes a straw man:

Contrary to the caricatures of some opponents of this lawsuit, declaring a chimpanzee a person doesn’t mean giving him or her the right to vote, attend school or sue for defamation. It simply means giving him or her the most basic, fundamental right of having legal standing, rather than being considered a mere object.

I may have missed it: But I don’t know anyone who has claimed that allowing chimps to be persons would require that they vote.”

Yes, Wesley J. Smith, you did miss it. And quite frankly, I’m unclear as to how that is possible, considering that some opponents to the lawsuit were saying exactly that:

  • Appeals Court To Decide if Chimps Should Have the Same Rights As…” (“I would really like this to happen, just for the fun factor. If chimpanzees have the same rights as humans would they qualify for Obamacare? Would they get Obama phones? Could chimps over 18 vote? Would they form their own political party?“) via thefederalistpapers.org;
  • Human Rights for Chimps is Just Monkey Business” (“Frankly, it wouldn’t be long before some of these people wanted animals on juries and given the right to vote, because to deny them that is a breach of their rights. And how long before the word ‘chimp’ is deemed derogatory and must be replaced with ‘primate of chimpanzee origin’?”) via Irish Independent;
  • Get Ready for Chimpanzee Voter Rights For Democrats” (“Will they be able to get food stamps, collect unemployment, vote, and attend college for free? The ACLU is trying to get the courts to stop all voter ID laws. If chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, and dolphins are given legal personhood status, will they be able to vote?“) via Godfather Politics;
  • Opponents discussing the topic on this board in Nation States (“Animal personhood, on the other hand, is the idea that animals — without human intellect and skill and knowledge — ought to be given the right to pretty much do whatever. Should the chimpanzee be given citizenship as well? The right to vote? Should we have separate restrooms for chimpanzees? These things may seem odd now, but within ten years if this mentality continues, this could be mainstream. Chimp and human marriages! What’s next?”);
  • and countless comments on Facebook, like on here.

The last point from Smith’s piece that I want to address is his claim that the NhRP hasn’t tried to improve Tommy’s welfare. Here’s the full quote from his article:

I have pointed out previously in writing about this case, that the Nonhuman Rights Project has not sought to improve Tommy’s welfare. For example, they have not, to the best of my knowledge, called in the animal welfare authorities to conduct an investigation.”

Did Smith even bother reading about this case at all? Two things:

First, what Tommy’s owner, Patrick Lavery, is doing is not illegal; the cage in which Tommy is detained actually complies with animal welfare laws. In case my readers don’t know how Tommy is kept, here’s a description:

“When we visited Tommy, we found him in a small cage at the back of a dark shed at a trailer sales park that’s also home to a business called Santa’s Hitching Post that rents out reindeer for Christmas shows and other entertainment. Tommy was all by himself – his only company being a TV on a table on the opposite wall.” — Lawsuit Filed Today on Behalf of Chimpanzee Seeking Legal Personhood

An investigation by animal welfare authorities would have resulted in nothing, because again, Tommy’s detainment doesn’t violate animal welfare laws, including the Animal Welfare Act. Moreover, if Smith had actually researched this issue before writing about it, he would have seen Tommy’s owner boasting about his inspection reports:

“The cage in New York where Tommy now lives exceeds federal and state standards and is inspected every year, [Lavery] said.”

Secondly, and most devastating to Smith’s claim, is that Tommy’s owner actually refused to cooperate with NhRP. The following is from the courtroom at Tommy’s appeal hearing, where Steven M. Wise of the NhRP answered questions from a five-judge panel lead by Justice Karen Peters:

Q: Have you asked the respondent to voluntarily relinquish the chimpanzee?

A: Yes, we asked him twice, in writing, and offered to help send Tommy to one of the designated sanctuaries. We said that we would drop the case if the respondent agreed, but he refused.

And yet Wesley J. Smith is claiming that the Nonhuman Rights Project hasn’t sought to improve Tommy’s welfare? Before writing about issues he clearly knows nothing about, Smith should do some research.

Photo Source: The NhRP

Tommy in his cage. Photo Source: The NhRP

 

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About The Paw Report

I graduated from St. John's University School of Law in 2012, and am admitted to practice law in New York State. I was a member of the New York City Bar Association's Animal Law Committee for three years. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, but moved to New Mexico when I was 18. After dabbling in film for two years, I graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Anthropology. I've been living in New York City since 2008, and currently reside in Brooklyn with my boyfriend and our two cats. I am a former organizer with Direct Action Everywhere - New York City.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Wesley J. Smith Gets the Nonhuman Rights Project All Wrong

  1. Hi Rae,

    Having trouble with my commenting abilities. Technical problem with my site. Just doing a test here. Bear with me please.
    Thanks,
    Anne

    Like

    Posted by vegangrammieannie | October 29, 2014, 12:57 pm

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