Atheists claim that humans are just animals, so animals should have the same rights as humans. On June 14, 2022, the New York Court of Appeals denied a claim by a Florida-based animal rights group called “The Nonhuman Rights Project.” The group had claimed that an elephant named “Happy” in the Bronx Zoo was in illegal custody and should be released because the elephant was equal to humans. After four years of litigation, Happy the elephant is denied personhood by the New York Court of Appeals.
There have been stories by animal protection groups of elephants displaying emotions that they interpret as typical human responses to the death of a family member. Other people have ascribed similar arguments for humanizing a pet dog or cat. We call this anthropomorphism, and we have dealt with it before.
If you deny that humans are created in the image of God, then any animal can be considered equal to humans. However, because we are in God’s image, humans have spiritual characteristics that animals don’t have. For example, we can express creativity in art and music, feel guilt and sympathy, have a complete self-concept, appreciate beauty, and worship God. Some people may ascribe human characteristics to a loved animal, suggesting that it can do one of these things, but they would not argue that the animal can do all of them.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, “While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, Happy, as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.” She said that the legislature would have to decide to grant nonhuman animals the same legal rights as humans.
The court’s decision was five to two, with the two jurists strongly dissenting. So, at least for now, Happy the elephant is denied personhood unless the legislature decides to change the law. Interestingly, the New York legislature denies personhood for a human baby up to the moment of birth.
— John N. Clayton © 2022