Animal rights is the idea that some or all nonhuman animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives, and that their most basic interests – such as an interest in not suffering – should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. Advocates oppose the assignment of moral value and fundamental protections on the basis of species membership alone – an idea known since 1970 as speciesism, when the term was coined by Richard D. Ryder – arguing that it is a prejudice as irrational as any other. They agree for the most part that animals should no longer be viewed as property, or used as food, clothing, research subjects, or entertainment.
Advocates approach the issue from a variety of perspectives. The abolitionist view is that animals do have moral rights, which the pursuit of incremental reform may undermine by encouraging human beings to feel comfortable about using them. Gary Francione's abolitionist position is promoting ethical veganism. He argues that animal rights groups who pursue welfare concerns, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, risk making the public feel comfortable about its use of animals. He calls such groups the "new welfarists". Tom Regan, who as a deontologist argues that at least some animals are "subjects-of-a-life," with beliefs, desires, memories, and a sense of their own future, who must be treated as ends in themselves, not as a means to an end. Sentiocentrism is the theory that sentient individuals are the subject of moral concern and therefore deserve rights. Protectionists seek incremental reform in how animals are treated, with a view to ending animal use entirely, or almost entirely. This position is represented by the philosopher Peter Singer, whose focus as a utilitarian is not on moral rights, but on the argument that animals have interests, particularly an interest in not suffering, and that there is no moral or logical reason not to award those interests equal consideration. Singer's position is known as animal liberation. Multiple cultural traditions around the world, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, also support some forms of animal rights. Scientific studies have also provided evidence of similar evolutionary characteristics and cognitive abilities between humans and some animals.
In parallel to the debate about moral rights, animal law is now widely taught in law schools in North America, and several prominent legal scholars[who?] support the extension of basic legal rights and personhood to at least some animals. The animals most often considered in arguments for personhood are bonobos and chimpanzees. This is supported by some animal rights academics because it would break through the species barrier, but opposed by others because it predicates moral value on mental complexity, rather than on sapience alone.
Critics of animals rights argue that animals are unable to enter into a social contract, and thus cannot be possessors of rights, a view summed up by the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only humans have duties, and therefore only humans have rights. A parallel argument, known as the animal welfare position, is that animals may be used as resources so long as there is no unnecessary suffering; they may have some moral standing, but they are inferior in status to human beings, and insofar as they have interests, those interests may be overridden, though what counts as necessary suffering or a legitimate sacrifice of interests varies considerably. Certain forms of animal rights activism, such as the destruction of fur farms and animal laboratories by the Animal Liberation Front, have also attracted criticism, including from within the animal rights movement itself, as well as prompted reaction from the U.S. Congress with the enactment of the "Animal Enterprise Protection Act (amended in 2006 by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act)".
Factors that may affect attitudes towards animal rights include gender, occupation, level of education, and religion. Persons with Christian conservative religious views are less likely to support animal rights, and people who identify as animal rights supporters have divergent views about tactics used by the movement.