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France Constitutional Council rejects national ban on bullfighting

The Constitutional Council of France on Friday rejected [decision, in French] a challenge to the bullfighting exception contained in the animal cruelty provisions of the country's criminal code. Article 521-1 of the Criminal Code [text, PDF] provides for two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine for the serious maltreatment or commission of an act of cruelty toward any domestic animal or animal held in captivity, but the provisions provide an explicit exception for bullfights held in a region where an uninterrupted local tradition can be shown. In an effort to ban bullfighting nationwide, animal rights activists unsuccessfully argued that such a regional exception violates equal protection principles guaranteed in the French constitution [materials]. The Council found that the exception as crafted was sufficiently precise so as to not infringe constitutional rights. The tradition has been popular in France for 150 years and continues under the animal cruelty exception, mostly in the southern area of the country. More than 1,000 animals are killed annually [AFP report] in the dozens of bullfights held in France, defended by advocates as a local tradition and important generator of tourism.

Bullfighting in France, Spain and other countries has become a controversial issue in each nation. The most recent national animal cruelty controversy in the US was settled in November 2010 when the Senate [official website] unanimously approved a bill [JURIST report] banning animal cruelty "crush" videos, which featured small animals being tortured or killed for entertainment purposes. Congress was forced to revise 1999 animal cruelty legislation [18 USC § 48 text] following the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Stevens [Cornell LII backgrounder], in which the 1999 law was struck down [JURIST report] for being substantially overbroad and therefore in violation of the First Amendment [text]. Following the Supreme Court's decision animal rights activists focused on the narrowness of the ruling and called on [JURIST comments] Congress to revise the law.

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