What do Corky the orca and Hercules the chimpanzee have in common? Neither are "persons."
Although those facts seem noncontroversial, both required adjudication.
In April, it took a correction from Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe to establish that Hercules was not in fact a person eligible for a writ of habeas corpus. The New York Post reported that the judge "acknowledged that she inadvertently got turned into a monkey's uncle by signing court papers, submitted by (The Nonhuman Rights Project,) that inadvertently bestowed human status on two chimpanzees" used at a state university.
The case is not over. A hearing on whether the "imprisoned" chimpanzees have special humanlike rights is scheduled for May 27.
In Corky's case, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Seaworld seeking the release of Corky and four other whales. In the case heard in federal court in 2012, PETA sought to extend the constitutional right against slavery to whales, which the group's lawyer, Jeffrey Kerr, awkwardly conceded, "happen not to have been born human."
Mr. Kerr said that PETA's "lawsuit stands for the simple but powerful proposition that slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on the gender, race or religion of the slave." He called the case "the next frontier of civil rights."
PETA's case was dismissed in 2013, and to date, animals are still not recognized as humans. But the animal rights activists pledge to fight on.
Indeed, animal "rights" activists scored a victory earlier this year – not in court – but through political tactics. Their perpetual stream of litigation and proposed bans of elephants in circuses caused Ringling Bros. to phase out its use of elephants in their circus.
These cases are part of a broader campaign in which radical activists purposefully seek to blur the important distinction between "animal welfare" and "animal rights."
Simply put, animal welfare is the notion shared by all decent humans that we should take good care of animals. Animal rights, on the other hand, is a system where whales can be considered slaves and research chimpanzees have "personhood."
Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute, points out that, "knowing that most of society disagrees" with the animal rights approach, "animal rights organizations often hide their radical ultimate agenda (to end all human use of animals) behind a facade of animal welfare-style activism."
Smith points out that animal rights groups are happy to co-opt society's appropriate belief in animal welfare to advance their unpopular animal rights approach.
In fact, Humane Watch reports that according to public polling, "about 70 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that (the Humane Society of the U.S.) is a pet shelter 'umbrella group' and that HSUS gives most of its money to pet shelters."
But Humane Society of the U.S. doesn't run any pet shelters and only gives 1 percent of its budget to local shelters.
So while HSUS fundraising focuses on animal welfare such as dog and cat rescue, it spends donor money on radical rights advocacy.
How radical are these groups? In one disturbing campaign, on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, April 16, animal rights activists held a funeral procession in New York City to remember pigs and cows who are "victims of the animal holocaust."
Lest you think this was just one careless campaign by the most radical of radicals, PETA itself sponsored a "Holocaust on a Plate" campaign in 2003 to rail against the eating of animals. Lisa Lange, PETA's then vice president of communications, defended the appropriateness of the campaign, telling CNN, "Nazi concentration camps were modeled after slaughterhouses."
The groups don't compare our use of animals to the holocaust merely because of its shock value; they use it because it is central to their radical animal rights agenda, which, unlike animal welfare, is based on moral equivalence between animals and humans.
When animal rights extremists raise huge sums of money off our concern for animal welfare, but use the money to advance a rights agenda, they divert critically needed money, awareness and advocacy-resources away from actual animal welfare.
Radical activists such as PETA and their allies have become better at masking their unpopular agenda. But don't be fooled. The best way to come together and truly protect animals is to advance animal welfare and reject animal rights.
Stier is senior fellow, National Center for Public Policy Research and is director of the Risk Analysis Division.