How Earth Law Supports Animal Rights

Reader Contribution by Darlene May Lee and Earth Law Center
1 / 2
2 / 2

Elephants from

On July 4th, 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court in the northern region of India ruled that all animals have the same rights and legal status as humans, and cannot be treated simply as property. In this historic ruling, a Division Bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Lokpal Singh not only granted all animals this distinct status, but they also issued a series of steps that would be taken to prevent cruelty against animals

This decision has made all residents of the district of Uttarakhand legally responsible for the welfare and protection of animals, similar to how parents are legally responsible for the welfare of their children

People Have Cared About Animal Welfare for a Long Time

The famous Greek mathematician Pythagoras considered all living beings as kindred and advocated a vegetarian lifestyle as a result

Medieval philosopher and Catholic priest Thomas Aquinas that because of the hierarchy of creation imposed by God, all animals should be treated with the utmost respect. Burr, Steven I.; “Towards Legal Rights of Animals”; Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review Vol. 4, Issue 2, Article 2; 1975

The first known animal protection legislation in Europe was passed in Ireland in 1635 according to Richard D. Ryder.

The first animal protection group in the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), was founded by Henry Bergh in April 1866.

The Evolution of Animal Rights

The Nonhuman Rights Project was founded in 2007 and remains the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, public policy advocacy, and education to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.  According to the Nonhuman Rights Project Executive Director, Kevin Schneider, “Whether we’re talking about vulnerable human beings or non-human animals like our chimpanzee and elephant clients, legally enforceable rights are critical to helping individuals protect and, if necessary, regain their liberty and dignity—especially in circumstances where they might otherwise be powerless to confront the people or institutions responsible for depriving them of these vital aspects of existence.”[i]

Though common law mainly views animals as property, numerous people, governments, and organizations (including Earth Law) see them as equals. They are living beings, just like humans, and should be protected at all costs.

How Earth Law Can Help Animals

Southern Resident Orcas via Wikimedia Commons 

Drawing from both indigenous world views as well as a decades-long movement for Rights of Nature, Earth Law holds that nature has inherent rights and legally deserves the same protection as people and organizations. At Earth Law Center, we recognize nature’s right to exist, thrive and evolve: enabling nature to defend these rights in court and protecting nature the way common law protects humans.

Earth Law Center is partnering with Legal Rights for the Salish Sea (Gig Harbor community group), the Nonhuman Rights Project and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to seek rights recognition for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population and eventually for the Salish Sea.

Southern resident killer whales, also known as orcas, are a tightly knit, matrilineal community of whales found within the northeastern region of the North American Pacific Ocean. 

This community of orcas is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as of 2006.

As of June 2018, the total population of southern resident killer whales is 74 whales, having just lost a juvenile named Scarlett. Many organizations, activists, local population and government offices are working to save the Southern Residents. Rights for the Southern Resident Orcas could strengthen the protection of this iconic animal to prevent its extinction.

Get Involved Today

To help us in our efforts to support sustainable businesses, or in general, consider:

Donate to ELC

Sign up to volunteer at ELC here.

Stay informed by signing up for ELC’s newsletter

Connect with ELC on social media;
Darlene May Lee
 is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature’s rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.