Bullfighting: Justifying Cruelty with Tradition

Spencer Lo

The judges on France’s Constitutional Council, a 9 member body, ruled yesterday that bullfighting does not contravene the constitution, rejecting a challenge by the animal-rights group CRAC who seeks to ban the practice nationwide. Although bullfighting is prohibited in certain parts of France, the tradition has remained popular in the south – particularly in the Nimes and Arles areas – for the past 150 years. Professor Diane Marie Amann offered a brief analysis of the Council’s ruling here. CRAC contended that an exception contained in the country’s criminal code which explicitly protected bullfighting—if it occurs in regions “where an uninterrupted local tradition can be invoked”—violates equal protection principles (“The law…must be the same for everyone, with respect to protection as well as to punishment”). In other words, because bullfighting is prohibited in some areas on animal cruelty grounds, the same practice should be prohibited everywhere, otherwise unequal treatment would result. Rejecting this argument, the judges affirmed the tradition exception as constitutionally permissible. But the decision raises the obvious question, what’s so special about tradition? Why should entrenched cultural traditions, however humanly significant, take precedent over the welfare-interests of animals?   Read more

Bullfights in….California?

One of the most vexing problems that animal advocates face is fighting animal cruelty that is justified by reference to religious traditions. David has written about the problem here. A not so well known instance where there is a clash between religion and cruelty is in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the hot summer nights give way to a spectacle that many Americans don’t know takes place in their country: bullfighting. The fights are organized mainly by a community of Portuguese immigrants who claim that the bullfights are an integral part of their religious and cultural tradition. Why can such a cruel spectacle be conducted lawfully in California? Because the San Joaquín bullfights are bloodless! How can a bullfight be bloodless? The L.A. Times explains:

In 1957, California banned gory bullfights but did allow supporters — mostly Portuguese dairy farmers from the Azores, where the sport is popular and bloodless — to continue the tradition as long as the bull isn’t harmed or killed, and contests were staged in conjunction with religious festivals.

The Velcro adaptation – a bandarilha tipped not with razor-sharp darts but with nonlethal Velcro – was introduced in 1980 by Dennis Borba, an American-born matadorwhose father, Frank, was one of a few pioneering immigrants to revive the old-world spectacle in the 1960s.

Recently, animal advocates claimed that at least some bullfights are not really bloodless, as some 30 barbed banderillas were found at a bullfight in Los Angeles County. Harming bulls with real banderillas is, of course, unacceptable. Assuming, however, that the Velcro version of the banderilla is used, should the spectacle be banned anyway? Why or why not?

Luis Chiesa