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Tags: equal rights | animals | elephant | personhood

Do Elephants and Men Have Equal Rights?

elephant walking beside giant rocks and in front of trees

Bronx Zoo elephant "Happy" strolls inside the zoo's Asia Habitat in 2018. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

George J. Marlin By Friday, 08 April 2022 01:31 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The March 7, 2022 issue of the New Yorker published a feature essay titled, “The Elephant in the Courtroom: A Curious Legal Crusade to Redefine Personhood.” After reading it, I felt compelled to comment on it, so here goes:

As for background, in September 2019, the Nonhuman Rights Project (a nonprofit) filed a Habeas petition before N.Y. State Supreme Court Judge Alison Y. Tuitt requesting the release of Happy, an elephant, from “imprisonment” in the Bronx Zoo.

“However,” the New Yorker noted “if the Judge granted the habeas petition to move Happy from the zoo to a sanctuary, in the eyes of the law she would be a person. She would have rights.”

A brute possessing rights similar to a human person?

This specious claim has been taken seriously by a few jurists in recent years.

An Argentinian judge, for example, ruled an orangutan was a “nonhuman person” and, therefore, had “rights.”

A Pakistani court ruled that “nonhuman animals” have rights.

What is the rational for arguing that man and beast are equal and, therefore, entitled to similar rights?

The foundation for this view was first laid by 17th century rationalist philosophers who decreed that man is not a “person,” he is a “thing.”

Man, they insisted, is not made in the image and likeness of God, and the supposed difference between man and beast, between, for instance, a saint and an elephant, is merely a matter of degree.

Based on this reasoning, Nobel Laureate Albert Szent-György quipped: “There is no difference between cabbages and kings. We are all recent leaves on the old tree of life.”

If reducing science to various versions of materialism is valid, physicists, political scientists, economists, lawyers, and psychologists must treat man and beast alike, as machines differing only in degree of complexity.

However, that approach is flawed because the reality is man, due to his personhood, is substantially different from all other animals.

Man and elephant are similar in that they both live and vegetate, and they both sense, feel and move.

But that’s where the similarity ends. Man is substantially different because he thinks and wills; and his thoughts and volition are proper to himself.

Man can think and will because he is a “person” — the only “person” in the material universe.

The classical definition of a person was expressed in the 6th century by the philosopher Boethius. He defined man, the person, as a “complete individual of an intellectual nature.”

This view includes God and the angels with man, and, being nonreductive, excludes elephants.

“In other words,” the noted philosopher Dr. Larry Azar, observed: “man does not reflect, conceive, universalize, communicate symbolically, etc. — because he is an animal, but because he is a person. And he is a person because he is a spiritual form, a form united to a body.”

The sine qua non of the person, is the soul, (a/k/a reflective mind) which is not simply an extension of a material or animal nature.

Only a person, as a rational and moral human being, has rights because moral inviolability does not attach to the things which pertain to beasts. Rights come from moral obligations, but since man alone is subject to moral responsibilities, only he can have rights.

Children and other people unable to exercise rights, still have rights in virtue of their human personality which competent adults must protect on their behalf.

Because animals are not rational or moral beings, they are not persons. Hence, calling Happy a “nonhuman” person is oxymoronic.

However, while men have no obligations to animals, they do have obligations about animals.

Man has an obligation to treat animals in a kind way. He must not treat them with cruelty nor should he abuse the animal kingdom which God has put at his disposal.

Which brings me back to Happy’s legal case.

Bronx Supreme Court Judge Tuitt, after hearing 13 hours of arguments on whether Happy “is entitled to the legal right to be released from her imprisonment” stated in her ruling, released on February 18, 2020, that it was her personal opinion that Happy “is more than just a legal thing or property.”

The judge went on to opine that Happy “is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity and who may be entitled to liberty.”

But, the judge’s flawed position that Happy is “entitled to liberty” took a back seat to the law: “Nonetheless,” Tuitt concluded, “we are constrained by the case law to find that Happy is not a person and is not being illegally imprisoned.”

Contrary to the claims of the folks at the Nonhuman Rights Project, no other corporeal substance, including Happy the elephant, is a person. Only man is a person entitled to rights because he alone possesses powers of insight and volition.

George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Contrary to the claims of the folks at the Nonhuman Rights Project, no other corporeal substance, including Happy the elephant, is a person. Only man is a person entitled to rights because he alone possesses powers of insight and volition.
equal rights, animals, elephant, personhood
Friday, 08 April 2022 01:31 PM
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