By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
May 13, 2021
Earlier this year, Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, wrote an editorial saying that it was his earnest prayer that state legislators would seriously consider revisiting the issue of cockfighting in North Carolina. Creech noted in his editorial, “I’m no left-wing animal rights activist. As a Baptist preacher who loves North Carolina Barbeque, fried chicken, and a good steak, it should be readily apparent that any such label placed on me, whether wrongly perceived or as an intentional smear, would be way off the mark. But I am saying this cockfighting business is not inconsequential, and our statutes need an upgrade to tackle it effectively.”
Creech’s prayer may be answered, at least in part, if a measure which passed the North Carolina House this week and was sent to the Senate wins approval there.
Introduced in April by Rep. Carson Smith (R-Columbus) and co-sponsored by Reps. Allen McNeil (R-Randolph), Julia Howard (R-Davie), and Jerry Carter (R-Rockingham), HB 544 – Revise Animal Fighting Laws would criminalize taking someone under the age of eighteen to an exhibition featuring animal fighting.
Cockfighting and dogfighting are already illegal in the state. Still, this legislation would penalize those participating in these animal fighting contests and add punishments ranging from different felonies, depending on the circumstances, to a Class 2 misdemeanor, for causing someone less than eighteen to be present.
The bill, when it was filed, was initially more robust than the one that passed the House. It would have included penalties for owning, training, buying, selling, or transporting a cock “with intent” for the bird to be used in a cockfight. It also would have criminalized owning, buying, selling, transferring, or manufacturing cockfighting paraphernalia to engage in or otherwise promote or facilitate cockfighting.
But some lawmakers thought this language was a bridge too far. Constituents, as well as lobbyists who represent people that raise cocks for shows, say they are concerned about how law enforcement might interpret the word “intent.” They argue such language in the law allows law enforcement officers to come onto someone’s farm or into their yard and destroy birds meant for show purposes only. They contend officials might euthanize their fowl because they believe the birds are being bred for the fighting ring.
Smith would later remove these provisions and crafted language that would only criminalize taking a minor to an animal or cockfight. This language is the same as a bill that passed the House in 2019, HB 507 – Animal Fights/Criminalize Attendance of a Minor Act, which was championed by Rep. McNeill and stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.
Dr. Creech said he threw his support behind this legislation when McNeill ran it, and he was advocating for it again because it is an issue of moral import. Creech says cockfighting is associated with illegal gambling, drugs, and even child molestations by criminals involved in the sport.
During the hearing of HB 544 before the House Judiciary 2 Committee, Creech told lawmakers:
“Christian teaching holds that we are stewards of the creation. Animals are not created as equals with humans, who are made in the image of God, but animals are given to us as God’s good provision. Nevertheless, good stewardship over the earth prohibits the use of animals in an abusive, wasteful, and thoughtless manner. Cockfighting is cruel, barbarous, insensitive, calloused, and beneath us as the stewards of creation.
“Dr. Richard Land, former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has eloquently stated that cockfighting treats living things as inanimate objects, causing needless pain for frivolous reasons. He says, ‘Cockfighting is a pornography of violence, and people who watch it are going to be brutalized by it.’
“It is true that this form of animal fighting is already illegal, but our laws against it do not sufficiently address the current issues associated with it.
“Where these events are taking place illegally, cockfighters are bringing their children, some as young as five, to these competitions and needlessly exposing them to this form of animal cruelty, violence, and other crimes.
“The current circumstances are not only a question of morality with ramifications for a child’s impressionable mind, but it’s also a matter of law and order.
“We know today that there is a network of subversive animal breeders annually smuggling thousands of live roosters from North Carolina to places like Guam, where these birds can be worth a fortune on the black market and support a vibrant but illegal cockfighting trade. But as I understand it, even if we were to investigate this situation and seek to arrest the perpetrators, it’s not clear what penalties they would face.
“Failure to deal with this effectively makes our state complicit with a form of underground crime.”
He added he hoped stakeholders on the matter might come together with some compromise that would effectively deal with the crime of cockfighting and protect the interests of people who wish to raise birds for show or possess paraphernalia that is not being used for cockfighting.
The measure passed the House 112-0 and now resides in the Senate Rules Committee.