Progressive group claims chimpanzees are like African Americans in bizarre lawsuit

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Chimpanzees should be freed from zoos for the same reason that African Americans were freed from slavery, a group of progressive legal entrepreneurs working to level the courtroom rights of humans and animals claimed in a recent lawsuit.

The offensive comparison is a dangerous and self-serving effort by progressives to win legal rights for animals via courtroom decisions, said a fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Wash., Wesley J. Smith, an author and a critic of the claim that legal rights should be shared with animals.

The claim also makes a mockery of slavery’s real impact on people, Smith said.

“Can you image what Nat Turner would said if the treatment he got was treated as equivalent to the treatment of a chimpanzee?” he asked.

The comparison “is completely outrageous,” he added.

“We’re not saying blacks and chimpanzees are alike, except in their legal status,” said Steven Wise, the president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which filed three cases in New York seeking the forced release of animals, including “Tommy,” a chimpanzee.

The legal team is just using whatever legal precedents they can find to win rights for animals, Wise told The Daily Caller.

“We are arguing that an entity that is autonomous, that chooses how to live its life, that is self aware, that is self-directing, has the qualities that the American courts… hold sacred” enough to deserve legal rights, he said.

If courts are willing to grant right to animals for reasons other than autonomy, the group would cite those other reasons, Wise said.

In this lawsuit, the progressives rely on a judge’s decision in 1772 to grant freedom to a black man because of the man’s autonomy. The progressives then argue that today’s judges should also grant freedom to chimpanzees because the chimps also have autonomy.

However, there’s a revolutionary anti-human claims concealed in this apparently simple comparison in a bizarre lawsuit, said Smith.

Americans’ evolved culture and democratic law are based on Western civilization’s consensus claim that humanity is exceptional, and that people get rights because they’re human, said Smith, author of “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.”

That claim is written into the Declaration of Independence, which says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” Smith said.

In contrast, the culture says animals deserve respectful treatment from people, protection from abuse and decent welfare when kept as pets.

If multiple judges declare that rights are derived from a creature’s autonomy and intelligence, not from the basic fact that they are human, then people who lack autonomy also lack those rights, such as the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Smith said.

All humans start their lives as developing babies without those capacities, and many humans are temporarily incapacitated during their lives.

If “people can lose those rights by losing their capacities, then no one is safe,” Smith said.

In Europe, sick and morose people are already being killed under “assisted suicide” laws, and there’s growing pressure in the United States to cut healthcare costs by truncating treatment for old or sick people, he said.

The lawyer who brought the case dismissed Smith’s logic.

“We would not be in favor” of incapacitated people losing rights, Wise told TheDC.

“Autonomy is sufficient condition [to get rights], but we’re certainly willing to live with the idea that being human is also an sufficient condition,” he said.

The group is agnostic on what attributes deserve rights, but is merely focused on getting rights for animals, Wise added.

In the lawsuit, “we’re not going to make our own argument as to what qualities should be valued… we’re not giving our opinion at all,” he said.

But he also told TheDC that idea of autonomy is enough to grant rights to orangutans, gorillas and bonobo primates, and also to elephants, and some types of whales and dolphins.

Autonomous animals, he said, have “a self of identity… can understand the past, understand there future… he can think… construct their own cultures, use language, use numbers,” he said.

Thinking robots might deserve rights, he said.

So too could ant colonies, he suggested, saying “an ant colony seem to be autonomous thing… [but] I only have the dimmest idea of what’s going on with them.”

Some of his group’s supporters already place animals above humans.

The group’s website includes moderated comments from supporters, including “EthicalOne,” who denounced drug testing on animals. But, the person added, “I have no problem if we test drugs and chemicals on murderers, rapists, criminal against humanity [sic] and mass shooters.”

“My whole family sees our pets as part of the family,” said “tricia shirey.,” another commenter. “I would take care of them protect them and protect them as I would any family member.”

The movement to win legal rights for animals is growing, Smith warned.

For example, more than 100 colleges have provided classes and training for students. Prominent lawyers, such as Harvard’s Lawrence tribe, have supported the trend, Smith said.

Wise’s group has a three-person board, including Wise, who has taught animal rights at various law-schools, including Harvard.

His fellow-board members include TV personality Jane Goodall, who became famous for showcasing chimpanzees in Tanzania, as they nurtured their young, competed against each other for food and status, patrolled their territory and killed off harmless monkeys.

The third board-member is Gail Price-Wise. She “is the founder and President of the nonprofit Florida Center for Cultural Competence, Inc., which trains health care providers to work more effectively with minority populations,” says the bio on the group’s website. “She is a past President of the Harvard School of Public Health Alumni Council and a past President of the Harvard Club of Broward County,” the website says.

The group’s lawsuit is built on a 1772 case, in which an English judge sharply undermined the legality of slavery in England by denying the right of slaveholders to transport their slaves from the English ports.

Slavery is “so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law,” such as by a legislature, and “I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England,” wrote the judge, William Murray, the Earl of Mansfield.

“Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision…the black must be discharged,” Mansfield concluded in Somerset v. Stewart, which provided a legal foundation and social endorsement for anti-slavery movements.

Mansfield’s decision was based on the commonplace Christian judgment that human bondage is “odious,” not on academics’ calibrated studies showing the black slave’s autonomy.

Mansfield’s reasoning is far different from Wise’s progressive claim, which would end the assumption that humans have rights simply because they’re humans, said Smith.

If that assumption is fractured, the nation’s dominant and self-serving business — the diverse array of high-IQ, self-serving professionals working in universities, courtrooms and legislatures — will be able to advance their careers by chopping, changing and shrinking humans’ rights.

The country’s legal system has done this before.

In 1927, a previous generation of social engineers used new social-science data to persuade the science-dazzled Supreme Court to approve government-imposed sterilization of poor women.

That eugenics campaign died in 1945 after the discovery that Adolf Hitler’s national socialists applied similar theories to Jews, Slavs and gypsies.

So far, the Wise and his allies have failed to persuade judges.

This week, Wise’s lawsuit were rejected, but two judges indicated some sympathy for the group.

Niagara County Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello said he did not want “to make that leap of faith” that animals deserve human rights, according to

“As an animal lover, I appreciate your work,” said Joseph Sise, a Fulton County Supreme Court Justice.

The group is preparing to appeal the defeats to the higher court.

“I don’t see it changing our nationwide strategy… We’re itching to get going with other lawsuits,” said Natalie Prosin, the director of the project.

“They’re just looking for one judge [to agree], and one they get those headlines… think of the money that will pour into their project,” said Smith, who added that the groups haven’t tried to protect the chimpanzees by enforcing local animal welfare rules, or even by buying the animals.

Most people see the campaign to share human rights with animals as bizarre, Smith said. “The temptation is roll your eyes and not take it seriously,” he said, but “these people are mounting a full-scale war against the fundamental principle of Western civilization.”

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