Religious animal sacrifice = constitutionally protected


Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida, forbidding the "unnecessar[y]" killing of "an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption", was unconstitutional. Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Lukumi_Babalu_Aye_v._City_of_Hialeah

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah involved animal sacrifice of the Santeria, a blend of Roman Catholicism and West African religions brought to the Carribean by East African slaves. An ordinance made it a crime to "unnecessarily kill, torment, torture, or mutilate an animal in public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption." The ordinance came as a response to the local concern over the sacrificial practices of the Santeria. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, carefully pointed out that the questioned ordinance was not a generally applicable criminal prohibition, but instead singled out practitioners of the Santeria in that it forbade animal slaughter only insofar as it took place within the context of religious rituals. (A.M. No. P-02-1651. August 4, 2003)

FACTS: Petitioner church and its congregants practice the Santeria religion, which employs animal sacrifice as one of its principal forms of devotion. The animals are killed by cutting their carotid arteries, and are cooked and eaten following all Santeria rituals except healing and death rites. After the church leased land in respondent city and announced plans to establish a house of worship and other facilities there, the city council held an emergency public session and passed, among other enactments Resolution 87-66, which noted city residents' "concern" over religious practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety, and declared the city's "commitment" to prohibiting such practices. Ordinance 87-40, which incorporates the Florida animal cruelty laws and broadly punishes "[w]hoever . . . unnecessarily or cruelly . . . kills any animal," and has been interpreted to reach killings for religious reasons. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/508/520#writing-USSC_CR_0508_0520_ZS

HELD: Our review confirms that the laws in question were enacted by officials who did not understand, failed to perceive, or chose to ignore the fact that their official actions violated the Nation's essential commitment to religious freedom. The challenged laws had an impermissible object; and in all events, the principle of general applicability was violated because the secular ends asserted in defense of the laws were pursued only with respect to conduct motivated by religious beliefs.Although a law targeting religious beliefs as such is never permissible, if the object of a law is to infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation, the law is not neutral and it is invalid unless it is justified by a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to advance that interest. There are, of course, many ways of demonstrating that the object or purpose of a law is the suppression of religion or religious conduct. To determine the object of a law, we must begin with its text, for the minimum requirement of neutrality is that a law not discriminate on its face. A law lacks facial neutrality if it refers to a religious practice without a secular meaning discernible from the language or context.

Because the ordinance suppressed more religious conduct than was necessary to achieve its stated ends, it was deemed unconstitutional, with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision, "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection."

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