Supreme Court rules: Animal sacrifice ban overturned; VERDICT DOES NOT AFFECT ANTICRUELTY LAWS

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1993:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Anticruelty laws were unaffected by a June 11 United States
Supreme Court verdict that overturned a ban on animal sacrifice imposed in 1987 by the city of
Hialeah, Florida. The Supreme Court unanimously held that although governments do have the
authority to enforce prohibitions on cruelty, the keeping of livestock, and violations of zoning,
the set of six ordinances enacted in Hialeah were unconstitutional because they were adopted in

specific response to the intention of the Church
of the Lukumi Babalu Aye to build a temple,
and were drafted in such a manner as to avoid
affecting any other group or acitvity.
For instance, the Court explained,
farmers were specifically exempted from prohi-
bitions on raising animals of certain types com-
monly sacrificed by members of the Church of
the Lukumi Babalu Aye, and also from a prohi-
bition on slaughtering animals outside of a
licensed slaughterhouse.
Likewise, the Hialeah ordinances
were tailored to have no effect on hunting, trap-
ping, fishing, vivisection, or greyhound racing
and training. In effect, they only prohibited
“ritualistic animal sacrifice,” not similar deeds
performed outside of a ceremonial context.
They thus violated the first clause of the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof.”
The Supreme Court has established
through a long tradition of jurisprudence that
lawmakers may regulate matters pertaining to
religious practice if, as Sherbert v. Verner held
in 1963, there is a clear and compelling reason
to do so, and/or, as the Employment Division v.
Smith verdict held in 1990, the legislation is
uniformly and broadly applicable, not tar-
geting a specific group for their beliefs. The
Smith decision originated out of the dis-
missal of two Native Americans from state
employment for having used peyote, a pro-
hibited drug, in a religious ceremony.
Numerous religious orga-
nizations concerned about the implications
of Smith backed the Church of the Lukumi
Babalu Aye in appealing the Hialeah ordi-
nances, including the American Jewish
Community, the National Association of
Evangelicals, the Presbyterian Church, the
Catholic League for Religious and Civil
Rights, and Mormon, Seventh Day
Adventist, and Mennonite groups. Their
hope was that the Court would overturn
S m i t h to preclude such possibilities as a
priest being charged with illegally serving
alcohol to minors in connection with serving
Kennedy bill
However, the Lukumi verdict
leaves the precedents established by S m i t h
intact––pending the anticipated passage of
the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of
1993. Having already cleared the House of
Representatives, the act is certain to clear
the Senate soon as well, as it was intro-
duced by Massachusetts Senator Edward
Kennedy last March with 53 co-spon-
sors––more than half the Senate member-
ship. Designated S.578, the Kennedy bill
specifically seeks to erase S m i t h, leaving
the “compelling interest” test established by
V e r n e r and a parallel case, Wisconsin v.
Yoder (1972) as the primary arbiter of con-
flicts between religious and legal require-
Kennedy indicated to Associated
Press reporter Richard Cole on June 11 that
like the L u k u m i decision, the R e l i g i o u s
Freedom Restoration Act should have no
adverse impact on humane laws. According
to Cole, Kennedy explained that the
Hialeah ordinances were so narrowly drawn
that they failed to meet either the “neutral
and generally applicable” standard set by
S m i t h or the “compelling governmental
interest” standard of the earlier decisions.
Enforcement of anticruelty laws
has been recognized as a compelling gov-
ernmental interest since 1867, when New
York state adopted the first such law in the
Although constitutional lawyers
Gary Francione and Anna Charlton of the
Animal Rights Law Clinic at Rutgers
University issued a memorandum to humane
societies on June 14, explaining the Lukumi
decision, and although the memorandum
was reprinted by several major daily news-
papers, reaction from humane authorities
around the U.S. was generally on the verge
of panic. [An expanded and more detailed
edition of the Francione/Charlton memoran-
dum appears on the following page.] The
anxiety increased June 26, when self-
described Miami Santerian priest Rigoberto
Zamora sawed the throats of a ram and two
goats with a steak knife, then twisted the
heads off of 16 birds in a rare public cere-
mony held to celebrate the Supreme Court
ruling––and, Zamora said, to show the
world that Santeria sacrifices are humane.
He failed to convince many of the media
witnesses. Other Santerians charged that
Zamora’s ordination as a “santero” had never
been confirmed. Former American SPCA
president John Kullberg, now president of
Guiding Eyes for the Blind, fumed that
L u k u m i “represents a step backward in our
ethical evolution.” Continued Kullberg in a
written statement, “For the Supreme Court
to allow even the suggestion that animal
sacrifice is a constitutionally protected right
is to betray our founding vision of religious
tolerance, which vision certainly was built
on more humanely sensitive underpinnings.”
Kullberg went on to attack the R e l i g i o u s
Freedom Restoration Act because it might
“suggest to many that ritualized animal sac-
rifices are consistent with our American tra-
dition of religious freedom.”
Current ASPCA president Roger
Caras called L u k u m i “an obscene, bizarre
and disastrous mistake,” adding that
Santeria, the religion practiced by the
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, “is not
legitimate in the context of modern
John Vermeulen of Charlotte
County Voice for Animals, in Port
Charlotte, Florida, warned that L u k u m i
could mark “an about-face to return to the
dark ages.”
A calmer response, however,
came from Michigan Humane Society exec-
utive director Gary Tiscornia, whose staff
has investigated numerous instances of ani-
mal sacrifice in recent years. “We are con-
cerned,” said Tiscornia, “that this ruling
may encourage people to cruelly kill ani-
mals in the name of religion. However, we
are pleased that the concurring opinion of
Justice Blackmun joined by Justice
O’Connor seems to clearly indicate that this
decision does not preclude the prosecution
of these types of cases under existing gener-
al state animal cruelty laws in Florida,
Michigan, and elsewhere.”
And Lukumi was praised by animal
protection activist Jack Tanis, of
Hollywood, Florida. “I am an atheist, an
antivivisectionist, a vegetarian, and an ani-
mal welfare/protection advocate,” Tanis
said, “and cannot remember when I wasn’t.
Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court ruled
correctly against the City of Hialeah. Until
legislators at all levels of government realize
the Bill of Rights must not be circumvented
by sleight-of-hand motivated by expediency,
bleak mentalities and loathsome activities
will continue.” Tanis pointed out that
“Santeria animal sacrifices could have been
abolished constitutionally, had the Hialeah
ordinances been uniform in their applica-
tion, which they weren’t; such uniform
ordinances would have been anathema to the
Hialeah politicians to cater to the pressures
of electoral popularity, rather than commit
to progressive principles that permit neither
special privileges nor selective punishment.”
Lukumi is expected to cause exten-
sive revision of a pending San Francisco
anti-animal sacrifice ordinance proposal, if
it is introduced at all, and could cause simi-
lar ordinances in effect in Los Angeles and
some other cities to be scrapped.
––Merritt Clifton
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