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Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah

    Brief Fact Summary. City ordinances passed to prevent animal sacrifices in connection with Santeria rituals were held invalid by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A law burdening religious practice that is not neutral or not of general application must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny. Where the government restricts only conduct protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) and fails to enact feasible measures to restrict other conduct producing substantial harm or alleged harm of the same sort, the interest given in justification of the restriction is not compelling.

    Facts. Santeria is a religion that fused African religion with Roman Catholicism. It called for animal sacrifices to keep the orishas (spirits) alive. In response to the news that a Santeria church was to be built in the city of Hialeah, the city council held an emergency public session in order to pass three laws outlawing any animal sacrifices in connection with Santeria rituals. All ordinances were passed by a unanimous vote. Violations were punishable by fines not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment no longer than sixty days, or both.

    Issue. Whether the city ordinances violate the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution?

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the lower court reversed. The protections of the Free Exercise Clause pertain if the law at issue discriminates against some religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons. If the object of the law is to restrict or infringe upon 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. The record in this case compels the conclusion that suppression of the Santeria worship service was the object of the ordinances. Here, religious practice is being singled out for discriminatory treatment. A law burdening religious practice that is not neutral or not of general application must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny. Where the government restricts only conduct protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and fails to enact feasible measures to restrict other conduct producing
    substantial harm or alleged harm of the same sort, the interest given in justification of the restriction is not compelling. Therefore, the city ordinances violate the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.
    Concurrence. Had the ordinances here been passed with no motivation to suppress a religious practice, but rather to prevent the cruelty of animals, they would still be held invalid. The First Amendment looks to the effects of the laws enacted, not the purposes for which they are enacted.
    The decision of the Court is correct, but its reference to Employment Division v. Smith is objectionable.

    Discussion. The Court looked behind the facial neutrality of the law to discern a religiously discriminatory purpose.


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