Acton Institute Powerblog

Animal Cruelty?

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I’m not quite sure what to make of this local story: “Four people are charged for their alleged involvement in killing two bald eagles.”

The details of the alleged crimes are as follows: “Prosecutors say two teenagers shot the eagles in the Muskegon State Game Area with a .22 caliber rifle in April 2004 and then chopped them up with a hatchet.” Since the bald eagle, one of the nation’s revered symbols, is an endangered animal, it is protected by both state and federal laws.

Given the law of the land (the Endangered Species Act), it makes some sense that those involved would be prosecuted for illegal killings of protected animals. But here’s the strange thing: two of the alleged participants are “charged with one count of animal cruelty, which is a four-year felony.” Unless I’m misunderstanding something, the eagles were “chopped…up with a hatchet” after they were killed. How can you be cruel to something after it’s already dead?

And just in case you were wondering which is considered more severe, the two men “are also facing one count each of killing a bald eagle, which is a 90-day misdemeanor.”

It’s hard for me to fathom why anyone would shoot and slaughter bald eagles, but that perversity is almost matched by the irrationality of the possible sentences.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Geoff Johnson

    The titles of legislation don´t tell all. The State of Michigan´s Intentional Infliction of Pain and Suffering Provision ( encompasses even painless death: “A person who willfully, maliciously and without just cause or excuse *kills*, tortures, mutilates, maims, or disfigures an animal or who willfully and maliciously and without just cause or excuse administers poison to an animal, or exposes an animal to any poisonous substance, other than a substance that is used for therapeutic veterinary medical purposes, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal, is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or community service for not more than 500 hours or any combination of these penalties.”
    Comparatively, in this case at least, the Endangered Species Act is a far cry from draconian (

  • Geoff,

    Thanks for the link and explanation. In this case, I think the “Michigan Intentional Infliction of Pain and Suffering” is a poor name for something that also covers “killing.”

    Of course, all this presumes that when the birds were shot, they died right away. Otherwise, there would have been “pain and suffering.” But the statute doesn’t seem to distinguish if a person “tortures, mutilates, maims, or disfigures” the animal before or after the animal’s death.