New York Court May Grant “Personhood” to Tommy the Chimpanzee

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Update: I am pleased to announce that according to Fox News on December 4, 2014, "A chimpanzee is not entitled to the rights of a human . . . a New York appeals court ruled Thursday."


By Aaron Logan via Wikimedia Commons

Human rights may no longer be just for humans. A group called the Nonhuman Rights Project is currently involved in a legal battle to get a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy recognized as a legal person deserving of certain legal rights, such as “bodily liberty and bodily integrity.” The group claims that Tommy “is being unlawfully imprisoned and therefore being deprived of his fundamental common law right to bodily liberty.” Of course, this chimp only has a right to bodily liberty if it is recognized as a person, which is currently what the court is trying to decide. Last year, judges denied Tommy and three other chimpanzees legal personhood, so the NhRP appealed all of the cases. On October 8, 2014, the group again presented their case and an answer from the judges is expected in four to six weeks.

The Nonhuman Rights Project that has taken this to court describes itself this way:

The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only organization working toward actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own. Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them. [emphasis theirs]

Basically, NhRP is a legal group seeking to get certain animals recognized as legal persons entitled to certain rights. Incredibly, NhRP compares its crusade to the battle fought to have slaves recognized as persons and freed! Their website states, “Not long ago, people generally agreed that human slaves could not be legal persons, but were simply the property of their owners . . . . We are asserting, based on clear scientific evidence, that it’s time to take the next step and recognize that these nonhuman animals cannot continue to be exploited as the property of their human ‘owners.’”

Now, NhRP claims that chimps deserve legal rights because “chimpanzees are self-aware and autonomous, and therefore entitled to be recognized as ‘legal persons’ with certain fundamental legal rights.” But why stop with chimpanzees? If they win, this group hopes to go back to court and fight to have other animals—dolphins, orcas (killer whales), elephants, and primates other than chimps—also recognized as persons with legal rights.

As our culture continues to turn away from the truth of God’s Word to base its thinking on evolutionary concepts, we will continue to see these kinds of cases in court. The obvious evolutionary bias of NhRP shows when they say, “Humans are animals; people tend to forget that. Under current law, the only animals recognized as having legal rights are humans.”

You see, the idea that chimps and other animals should be recognized as persons flows naturally from the evolutionary idea that humans are simply highly evolved animals—nothing more. Ideas have consequences! (For more information about what those consequences are, please read about them on our “Get Answers” section of the AiG website or learn about the topic in more detail in my book The Lie: Evolution , which warns “the church about the destructive effects of compromise with evolutionary/millions-of-years ideas.”)

If the judges presiding over such cases are evolutionists, then according to their own worldview they should put chimps on the same level as human beings. Now, we suspect—and certainly hope—that the judges will be inconsistent with an evolutionary worldview and will recognize that chimpanzees are not legal persons and should not be granted these rights.

If you start with God’s Word as the basis for your thinking, you will see that humans do not have rights simply because we are autonomous, self-aware beings, but because we are made in the image of God! Those who wrote the Declaration of Independence recognized this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”(emphasis mine). Humans—and only humans—were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). It is humans who have rights because our Creator gave us those rights—He did not give those rights to chimpanzees, dolphins, or elephants!

Furthermore, not only are human beings uniquely made in God’s image, but they are also the only ones given authority by God to rule over all creation—including over the animals: “Then God blessed [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

As the foundation of biblical thinking continues to be eroded in our culture, we as Christians need to be bold in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word—from the very first verse. What you believe about our origins greatly impacts how you view many other issues like personhood, morality, and ethics. I encourage you to read more about this issue at this topic page.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

This blog was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

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