Whale Tale: AFA Staffer Says Bible Mandates Death For SeaWorld Orca

A staffer at the American Family Association wants to kill (by stoning, yet!) a 12,000-pound whale that he believes is guilty of murder

On Feb. 24, a tragedy occurred at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. A six-ton killer whale known as Tillikum pulled trainer Dawn Brancheau underwater to her death in front of a crowd of horrified spectators watching a show.

Brancheau’s tragic death has led to some soul searching: What should be done with Tillikum? Is it ever appropriate to keep killer whales (also known as orcas) in captivity? Is it right to expect these animals to perform for our amusement?

Relatively few people are wondering what the Bible says about the matter. Luckily, the American Family Association (AFA), the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s Tupelo, Miss.-based Religious Right outfit, is on the case.

Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s director of issue analysis for government and public policy, is seriously arguing on a blog that the Bible mandates that Tillikum be put to death.

Fischer noted that Tillikum had killed another trainer at a Canadian aquarium in 1991 and a man who jumped into the whale’s enclosure at SeaWorld in 1999. The whale should have been killed in 1991, Fischer wrote, because the Book of Exodus requires the execution of any animal that kills a human being.

“If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone's misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives,” Fischer wrote.

Fischer cites Exodus 21:28, which states, “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.”

“So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death,” Fischer insisted. “You have no moral culpability in the death, because you didn’t know the animal was going to go postal on somebody.”

Furthermore, Fischer opines, because Tillikum killed more than once, his owner is now culpable and can be executed as well.

When a friend sent me this column a few days ago, I thought it might be a satire or maybe the work of someone trying to embarrass the AFA. Perhaps some hackers had broken into the AFA’s Web site and posted this. It’s that kooky. The AFA is extreme – but this extreme?

So I called Fischer to ask. He called me back promptly to confirm that he wrote the piece and it’s not intended as satire. He was cheerful and said he appreciated my checking.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Fischer is quite extreme. I heard him speak last fall at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit.” He explained to the crowd that Adolf Hitler came up with the separation of church and state and opined that states and local governments don’t have to abide by the First Amendment.

Fischer’s column has more than a whiff of Christian Reconstructionism about it. Reconstructionists, you might recall, insist that every jot and tittle of Old Testament law be binding on modern society. Thus, gay people, fornicators, those who worship “false gods” or anyone who engages in “witchcraft” (among other things) would merit the death penalty.

Sometimes people ask me why we get so worked up about the Religious Right here at Americans United. Fischer’s column, as daft as it is, is a good answer to that question. Here’s a guy who wants to kill (by stoning, yet!) a 12,000-pound whale that he believes is guilty of murder – all because of a blind adherence to his fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

If this is the fate that awaits Tillikum in AFA’s vision of a perfect society, what do you think is going to happen to you the next time you offend “biblical law”?