Gary: This week’s item is from the Seattle Times, with the headline, “Activists Seeking Legal Personhood for Great Apes—Sometime in the next decade, a chimpanzee will have its day in court. And on that day, it will be decided if chimps are people too.
“At least, this is the goal of an ambitious group of lawyers fighting to dismantle the legal principle that animals are property with no fundamental rights. The lawyers call it ‘The Great Ape Legal Project.’ Its supporters hail from some of the most prestigious schools in the land. The goal, what many see as the next logical step in the animal rights movement is to raise the status of great apes from property to people, with rights to life and liberty and perhaps even the pursuit of happiness.
“The question at the core would be whether chimpanzees and other great apes possess the characteristics that qualify them as legal people. The property status of animals is what allows humans to buy and sell them, breed and experiment on them, eat them, and make their body parts into trinkets, trophies, and briefcases.
“If animals gain legal standing, it would allow for dramatic changes in the way animals could be protected. Animal law courses are now being taught at Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and a dozen other law schools. And hundreds of lawyers in the United States, a dozen of them in the Seattle area, practice some form of animal law.
“Predictably, there’s no shortage of critics who consider the project ludicrous and dismiss the notion of a great ape legal trial as absurd. But a growing number of legal figures on both sides of the debate say such a case is not only possible but inevitable. Steven Wise, a Boston lawyer, teaching Animal Law at Harvard, says the social and intellectual climate in the United States will be ready for a great ape trial within ten years. Wise was in Seattle recently, promoting his new book, Rattling the Cage, which calls for legal personhood for chimpanzees.
“‘One consequence of this trial may be the end of society as we know it,’ according to University of Chicago professor, Richard Epstein, who calls legal personhood for animals a dangerous idea.
“ ‘Where would it stop?’ the law professor asks. ‘Would we then proffer rights to whales and dolphins, rats, and mice? Would even bacteria have rights? It’s one thing to raise social consciousness about the plight of animals and another to raise their status to an asserted parity with human beings,’ Epstein says. ‘That move would pose a mortal threat to human beings.’
“Steve van Chambers is president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national network of lawyers working on behalf of animals. He believes the legal status of apes will change in increments—that cases would build a legal foundation upon which an eventual breakthrough trial may be launched.”
Tom: Dave, all of this raises some interesting scenarios. For example, think of the gorilla that is successfully granted legal personhood, and then is released from an animal internment compound, once known as a zoo, and after release he steals a bunch of bananas from a local grocer, hospitalizes a couple of policemen who try to apprehend him, and ends up in the county jail for theft and resisting arrest. So, we’ve moved him from the zoo to our county jail.
Dave: Tom, I…I almost can’t take this seriously!
Tom: Dave, these are attorneys! Harvard, Yale, Georgetown graduates.
Tom: These guys are serious!
Dave: Yeah, some of them I can’t take seriously, and I’ll tell you why. This springs from evolution. I can’t take evolution seriously. It just isn’t true. Colin Patterson, for example, head paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History—he wrote a book about evolution, and someone just wrote to him and asked, “Why didn’t you have some pictures in there of intermediary fossils? There should be million, billions, of examples of intermediary stages.”
He wrote back, and he said, “Frankly, there aren’t any. I haven’t found any. And if I were writing that book today, I would say something different.”
But evolution—We’ve talked about it before, mathematically impossible. It is ludicrous…
Tom: …that life would form by chance.
Dave: Yeah! Well, that you could get…
Dave: Right. Well, that you could even get enough of the thousands of molecules thrown together in the right order by chance, I mean, you haven’t even begun to get the human brain. So, it just is ludicrous, it is absolutely impossible! No rational person would entertain such an idea except —if you deny chance, then you have to admit that it’s design! Our brain has been designed. The universe has been designed. The atom has been designed. Then there must be a Designer! And we are accountable to Him.
So, this whole thing now: “Well, if we can just prove that animals are persons.” Look! You know, I don’t know much about law, but if I were the attorney on the other side, I would say, “Let us call the plaintiff to the witness stand. Let’s have the gorilla there, and I’ll cross examine him.” The guy can’t even answer questions; he doesn’t have any idea what this lawsuit is about. We’re going to make a person out of him? No!
Tom: Dave, I know we’ve said on these programs before, animals do not act morally, they act naturally. Things that they do one to another, I mean are we going to charge a gorilla with rape? Are we going to charge a gorilla or a baboon that’s leading a troop, that he kills his most fierce competitor? Is he going to go on Death Row now, for premeditated murder? I mean, this is just absurd!
Dave: Yes, it is absurd, Tom, and the only reason why they’re pushing this is to escape God. To escape what the rational mind tells you: It couldn’t happen by chance. What the conscious tells us! We are accountable to God, Romans 2. The laws of God, His moral laws, are in every human conscience. They’re not in animal consciences. The Bible, of course, says the spirit of the animal goes to the earth. The spirit of man returns to God, who made it, either for judgment forever or to be with Him in heaven. Not animals.
So, the animal has no concept of rights. He wouldn’t even know what was going on in the courtroom. We have the idea of incompetency in human beings: they’re insane, or they’re incompetent, they don’t understand their rights, and so forth. They’re not treated like competent people. Now, an animal isn’t even…an animal hasn’t even come that far. They’re animals! They have no idea what’s going on, and this is ludicrous!