The Supreme Court on Santería - 2
Text of the court ruling Commentary on the text
3 [508 U.S. 520, 520]

    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; Ordinance 87-52, which defines "sacrifice" as "to unnecessarily kill ... an animal in a ... ritual ... not for the primary purpose of food consumption," and prohibits the "possess[ion], sacrifice, or slaughter" of an animal if it is killed in "any type of ritual" and there is an intent to use it for food, but exempts "any licensed [food] establishment" if the killing is otherwise permitted by law; Ordinance 87-71, which prohibits the sacrifice of animals, and defines "sacrifice" in the same manner as Ordinance 87-52; and Ordinance 87-72 which defines "slaughter" as "the killing of animals for food" and prohibits slaughter outside of areas zoned for slaughterhouses, but includes an exemption for "small numbers of hogs and/or cattle" when exempted by state law. Petitioners filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of their rights under, inter alia, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Although acknowledging that the foregoing ordinances are not religiously neutral, the District Court ruled for the city, concluding, among other things, that compelling governmental interests in preventing public health risks and cruelty to animals fully justified the absolute prohibition on ritual sacrifice accomplished by the ordinances, and that an exception to that prohibition for religious conduct would unduly interfere with fulfillment of the governmental interest, because any more narrow restrictions would [508 U.S. 520, 521] be unenforceable as a result of the Santeria religion's secret nature. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


     The judgment is reversed.

 936 F.2d 586, (CA 11 1991) reversed.  4

  In 1987, city officials of Hialeah, Florida, learned that a new Santería church was opening in which animals were to be sacrificed.

  The City Council held an emergency meeting.  It passed four Ordinances that outlawed ritual animal sacrifice and other aspects of Santería worship.

  The Ordinances claimed to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote public safety.

  However, suspicious exemptions remained in the new Ordinances:  they permitted animals to be killed under different circumstances and they did not correct many related threats to public safety. 

  For those reasons, the Church ("the Petitioners") sued the city, arguing that Ordinances which supposedly benefitted animals and the public were actually smokescreens designed to persecute followers of Santería.

  Under the Consitution, the State does have the right to impose laws on its citizens.  Under the First Amendment, however, the State does not have the right to single out followers of a religion and impose laws on them that it does not impose on the rest of the citizens.

  Nevertheless a District Court and the Florida Court of Appeals upheld the Hialeah Ordinances.

  When the case came to the Supreme Court four years later, the Ordinances were found to be prejudiced against the Santería religion and therefore unconstitutional.

Title Page
Opinions, Briefs, Arguments
I  Overview
I-A  Santería Religion
I-B  Case History
II  Free Exercise Clause
II-A  Neutrality
II-A-1  Compelling Interest
II-A-2  Equal Protection
II-A-3  Summary
II-B  General Applicability
III  Ordinances Fail Scrutiny
IV  Conclusion
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