Although cockfighting is illegal in North Carolina, contests are still being held across the state. Children are in attendance too. In 2019, lawmakers in the State House said this was unacceptable and passed HB 507 – Animal Fights/Criminalize Attendance of a Minor Act, which would have made it a felony to bring a minor to a cockfight. Unfortunately, the legislation championed by Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph) stalled in the Senate Rules Committee and died a quiet death.
Cockfights are often big exhibitions that involve large sums of money. Law enforcement officials have documented strong connections between animal fighting, gambling, illegal drugs, and even child molestations by criminals involved in the sport.
When McNeill, whose background is law enforcement, made his case last year to strengthen state statutes on cockfighting, he told the House Judiciary Committee that the top prize for a cockfight raided in his district was $40,000. "Spectators had been charged $25 for admission," said McNeill. "Seventy-three people were arrested from ages 16-29. As many as 73 vehicles were towed, and two firearms and money were seized."
Cockfighters bring their children, some as young as five, to these competitions and needlessly expose them to animal cruelty, violence, and other crimes, McNeill said.
Research shows that when children witness violence, it harms them. They are at higher risk for developing behavioral problems, academic failure, and delinquency. Exposure to animal abuse can have a prolonged impact on their emotional health and even foster an intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse.
I threw my support behind this initiative last year, and I believe it should be revived because it is an issue of moral import.
Christian teaching says that God made humankind his vice-regent to rule over the earth – to be its steward – to tend and care for it. The Scriptures also say that God made a covenant between himself, humanity, and every living thing. Meaning, we are required to demonstrate proper respect for each living creature. Animals were not created as equals with humans, who are made in the image of God, nevertheless, the animal kingdom is God's good provision for mankind. Responsible dominion and stewardship over the earth prohibits the use of animals in an abusive, wasteful, and thoughtless manner.
Dr. Richard Land, former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and currently the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, has eloquently stated:
"We do not have the right to treat living things as inanimate objects. We do not have the right to cause needless pain for frivolous reasons such as entertainment. Cockfighting is a pornography of violence, and people who watch it are going to be brutalized by it."
Cockfighting is cruel, barbarous, insensitive, calloused, and beneath us as stewards of the creation. It is, in my opinion, gladiatorial games by proxy of the animal world.
Yes, cockfighting is already illegal in North Carolina, but our laws against it do not sufficiently address the current issues associated with it.
For myself, this is not only a question of morality with damaging ramifications for a child’s impressionable mind, but it's also a matter of law and order.
Today a national network of subversive animal breeders annually smuggle thousands of live roosters to Guam, many from North Carolina, where these birds are worth a fortune in the Pacific island's vibrant but illegal cockfighting trade. This incredibly lucrative black-market enterprise reportedly fetches up to $2000 a bird.
Robert Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, investigated breeders across the state and determined as many as 1000 birds were shipped to the region for cockfighting. Perpetrators weren't publicly identified, and no one was arrested because it's not clear what penalties they would face.
Shipping records have shown as many as 9,000 fighting roosters were shipped to Guam from 12 U.S. States between September 2000 and November 2017. And, outpacing all the other states was North Carolina with its shipment of 1000 birds during the same period.
Failure to deal with such an ignominious designation makes our state complicit with a form of underground crime.
I'm no left-wing animal rights activist. As a Baptist preacher who loves North Carolina barbecue, 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.
It is my earnest prayer that our state's legislators will revisit the issue.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.