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Animal Sacrifice

Animal Sacrifice


Animal Sacrifice in the United States


Animal sacrifice is constantly debated in the United States.  States have jurisdiction over animal cruelty and animal abuse laws, and the federal government very rarely becomes involved with animal cruelty cases. 


The main religion in the United States that sacrifices animals is Santería.  The sacrifices usually occur at birth, wedding, and death ceremonies, and the sacrifices are also used to ward off sickness.  Jewish kosher slaughter classifies somewhat as the sacrificing of animals because the animal is prepared in a religious setting. 


This article will examine a case that addressed the sacrifice of animals, and if the sacrificing of animals is covered under the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution.


Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah


This case was decided in 1992 and addressed the legal provision of Free Exercise of Religion as allowed by the Constitution.  The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye practiced Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion.  During sacrifices, an animal’s carotid arteries are cut and the animal is eaten except during certain ceremonies. 


The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye brought a case against the city of Hialeah in Florida because the city council imposed several ordinances that addressed religious sacrifice shortly after the church was established in the city.  The ordinances strictly prohibited the possession of animals for slaughter or sacrifice by made specific exemptions for entities that had a state license. 


The question raised during the Supreme Court case was if the ordinances against animal sacrifice violated the Free Exercise Clause under the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court voted 9-0 that the ordinances violated the Free Exercise Clause. 


The Court ruled that the ordinances failed because of a lack of generality and neutrality.  The ordinances applied directly to the church and the targeted the religious practices of the Santería faith. 


Further Discussion about the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment


The Free Exercise Clause applies in three situations.  The Clause can be argued when the government tries to regulate or make religious practices observance difficult.  Secondly, the clause can be argued of the government tried to make a person or group engage in conduct that is prohibited by their religion.  Thirdly, the clause can be argued if the government of law prevents a person from conduct that is required by their religion. 


The Lukumi Babalu case obviously violated the first and third conditions under the clause, but there are ways to legally restrict animal sacrifice:


Zoning Laws


The city of Hialeah tried to restrict animal sacrifice with zoning laws for slaughter zones, but they specifically targeted the church and religion.  If the zoning laws were established earlier and less discriminatorily, the Supreme Court may have sided with Hialeah. 


Licensing Laws for Animal Possession


Many people obtain animals form shops call botanicas for animal sacrifice.  Some of these shops may not have the proper licensing laws to hold animals. 


Statutes against Animal Cruelty


If sacrifices amount to animal cruelty under state statutes, it can be prosecuted.