Captive OrcaThe tragic killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tillikum may lead thoughtful people to question whether it is a good idea to keep these amazing, smart, and potentially dangerous sea mammals as prisoners for our amusement.

The less-than-thoughtful people at the fundamentalist Christian organization the American Family Association (AFA) have a different question: If Biblical teachings were followed, would Brancheau still be alive today?

Rev. Bryan Fischer, an evangelical pastor and director of issue analysis at the AFA, thinks so. In a recent blog post, he cited Exodus 21:28: “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” While he takes care to say he doesn’t advocate stoning Tillikum (a surely complicated undertaking), he does believe the killer whale should have been put to death because he was connected to two earlier human deaths. “If an animal takes a human life, that animal should be euthanized so it doesn’t take another human life,” according to Fischer. “It’s also just common sense.”

Does the fact that Tillikum would not have been a threat to anybody had he been allowed to remain in his natural environment and lead a normal whale’s life have any bearing on the issue? Not to Fischer. For him, exploiting animals in any old way is perfectly fine: “In early chapters of Genesis, God makes man vice regent over all of creation…. Man has legitimate moral authority to use animals for human purposes and entertainment, and recreation would certainly fit within that.”

It’s tempting to dismiss the American Family Association as a fringe group. After all, they are the ones who issued a “warning” alerting to parents to the supposed gayness of kids’ cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. But they do claim to have 500,000 members, and an operating budget of over $10 million.

So while the AFA and those like them may or may not be in the mainstream of American thought, they aren’t exactly a tiny minority either. Lots of people think like they do, which means lots of people think animals are nothing but things humans can use in whatever way they wish. Until that type of thinking is fully rejected by the vast majority of people, real change for animals will be hard to achieve.

Photo credit: Mystik Visions!