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Church of the Lukumi Babala Aye v. City of Haileah

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Bloomberg Law

Brief Fact Summary.

The city passed an ordinance outlawing animal sacrifice for religious purposes.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Free Exercise Clause forbids subtle departures from neutrality and covert suppression of a particular religious belief.


The Church of the Lukumi Babala Aye (Petitioner) practices the Santeria religion wherein a principal form of devotion is animal sacrifice. The animals are killed by severing the carotid arteries in the neck. Later, the animal is cooked and eaten.
In 1987, Petitioner leased land from the City of Hialeah (Respondent) to build a house of worship. The community objected, and the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting all animal sacrifice for religious ceremonies citing a danger to the public health, safety, and welfare of the community.


Is the city ordinance prohibiting animal sacrifice constitutional?


No. The ordinance was developed in response to community outcry against the practice of Santeria. The interest in preventing cruelty to animals could have been achieved through alternative means than a complete ban on this religion.


A law that is neutral and generally applicable does not have to be justified by a compelling state interest. But when the law targets activity because of its religious nature it will be held invalid unless there is a compelling governmental interest and it is narrowly tailored to advance that interest.
The law here is not neutral on its face. It includes explicit reference to sacrifice and religious ritual. The goal of the ordinance was to prevent the practice of Santeria in the city.

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