Just as we're discussing when a human life becomes a person (and entitled to human and civil rights), along comes People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suing SeaWorld for enslaving whales in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
More accurately, the whales are suing, not PETA. The five SeaWorld ocra whales say (through PETA, I suppose) that want to be released into their natural habitat The whales actually are listed on the lawsuit as plaintiffs (along with some former Sea World employees who have gone rogue). PETA, in its press release, said this is the first attempt to apply the amendment to "non-human animals."
The amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, reads:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Notice that the amendment doesn't mention anything about people or whales or spiders or bighead carp. PETA, in all seriousness, sees the amendment's failure to mention people as a loophole. Says the press release:
The suit is based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to "person" or any particular class of victim. "Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion," says general counsel to PETA, Jeffrey Kerr.
Seriously. The press release rushes ahead:
Our understanding of animals grows every day. Animals are no longer regarded as "things" to dominate, but as breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, intellect, and emotions. Just as we look back with shame at a time when we enslaved other humans and viewed some people as property less deserving of protection and consideration, we will look back on our treatment of these animals with shame. The 13th Amendment exists to abolish slavery in all its forms—and this lawsuit is the next step.
The orcas are represented in the suit by what the law refers to as their "next friends": PETA, Ric O'Barry (a former orca and dolphin trainer and the star of the Academy Award–winning documentary The Cove), renowned marine biologist and orca expert Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Orca Network founder Howard Garrett, and former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg and Carol Ray.
One is inclined to predict that the suit will be laughed out of court. Except that the suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, located in the ninth circuit court of appeals district, a court that is notorious for its whacky decisions. Some courts have a history of the courts expanding the meaning of the constitution into the stratosphere.
I imagine by PETA's logic that monkeys, pets and barnyard animals are people. Monkeys show signs of breathing, feelings being with families, etc." Pets, often called "members of our family" will be able to sue (or more properly PETA can sue for them), seeking freedom. Or all the other rights and protections that are accorded to real humans.
SeaWorld strikes the right chord when it responds that PETA's efforts to "extend the Thirteenth Amendment's solemn protections beyond human beings is baseless and in many ways offensive."
David Steinberg, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, was more direct, calling the the suit "patently, absolutely frivolous".
The 13th Amendment abolished the abhorrent, despicable practice of the slavery of human beings. PETA is demeaning the integrity and humanity of people who were owned as slaves. That is outrageous.
I wonder: If the whales win the right to be considered to be equal to human beings, will they also become subject to human laws? Could the one that killed its trainer last year be tried for manslaughter? Could hunters be sued for animalslaughter?
The imagination reels.