Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whose Right Against Slavery?

Sometime this year, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises filed a lawsuit for violation of their Thirteenth Amendment right (the right against slavery and involuntary servitude) against their employer. These five were made to live in concrete tanks and forced to perform daily against their will. They were taken from their original homes and now are required to stage a show on cue for audiences at parks in San Diego and Orlando, Florida. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller heard the arguments of both parties last Monday. However, last Wednesday he dismissed the case holding that the 13th Amendment only applies to humans.

You see, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises are killer whales or orcas that perform in SeaWorld. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed the suit on behalf of the whale-plaintiffs alleging that the condition in which these animals are kept is tantamount to slavery. Obviously this legal action was met with skepticism, at the least, and mockery, at worst. The counsel for SeaWorld, Theodore Shaw, called the lawsuit a “waste of the court's time and resources… that it defies common sense and goes against 125 years of case law applied to the American constitution's 13th Amendment.” Shaw likewise vehemently argued that, “Neither orcas nor any other animal were included in the ‘We the people’ ... when the constitution was adopted.” After the decision came out dismissing the lawsuit, the defense reiterated that the issue is not about whether the animals have been subjected to abuse; if the ruling granted orcas constitutional rights, it would have profound implications not just for operations of zoos and aquariums but also for such things as the U.S. government's use of dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs.

PETA, on the other hand, is not disheartened. Before the petition was dismissed, the organization was already pretty pleased that Judge Miller agreed to hear the sides of both parties. “For the first time in our nation's history, a federal court heard arguments as to whether living, breathing, feeling beings have rights and can be enslaved simply because they happen to not have been born human.” Even after the dismissal, PETA is still optimistic in pursuing its struggle for the orcas and certain in the rightness of its cause. “Today's decision does not change the fact that the orcas who once lived naturally wild and free, are today kept as slaves by SeaWorld. PETA will regroup and determine how to continue to work for the legal protection they deserve." Upon reading the news of PETA’s filing a lawsuit against SeaWorld, I was initially a bit amused. Dignity in the treatment of animals in kept in whatever location is not a joking matter, but, well, the idea of killer whales petitioning a court of law for the protection of their rights against slavery and involuntary servitude seems a bit of a stretch. As held by Judge Miller, “The only reasonable interpretation of the 13th Amendment's plain language is that it applies to persons, and not to non-persons such as orcas.” Still, it cannot be denied that the passion and moxie PETA has in fighting for its advocacy is admirable. The method PETA used may have been a bit unorthodox but it did get the attention of people around the world.

Candice See
Entry #8

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