The Supreme Court on Santería - 6
Text of the court ruling
Commentary on the text
3 [508 U.S. 520, 524]
    This case involves practices of the Santeria religion, which originated in the 19th century. When hundreds of thousands of members of the Yoruba people were brought as slaves from western Africa to Cuba, their traditional African religion absorbed significant elements of Roman Catholicism. The resulting syncretion, or fusion, is Santeria, "the way of the saints." The Cuban Yoruba express their devotion to spirits, called orishas, through the iconography of Catholic saints, Catholic symbols are often present at Santeria rites, and Santeria devotees attend the Catholic sacraments. 723 F.Supp. 1467, 1469-1470 (SD Fla. 1989); 13 Encyclopedia of Religion 66 (M. Eliade ed. 1987); 1 Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience 183  (C. Lippy & P. Williams eds. 1988).

     The Santeria faith teaches that every individual has a destiny from God, a destiny fulfilled with the aid and energy of the orishas. The basis of the Santeria religion is the nurture of a personal relation with the orishas, and one of the principal forms of devotion is an animal sacrifice. 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 66. The sacrifice of animals as part of religious rituals has ancient roots. See generally 12 id., at 554-556. Animal sacrifice is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, see 14 EncyclopaediaJudaica 600, 600-605 [508 U.S. 520, 525] (1971), and it played an important role in the practice of Judaism before destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, see id., at 605-612. In modern Islam, there is an annual sacrifice commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in the stead of his son. See C. Glasse, Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 178 (1989); 7 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 456.

     According to Santeria teaching, the orishas are powerful, but not immortal. They depend for survival on the sacrifice. Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites, for the cure of the sick, for the initiation of new members and priests, and during an annual celebration. Animals sacrificed in Santeria rituals include chickens, pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles. The animals are killed by the cutting of the carotid arteries in the neck. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten, except after healing and death rituals. See 723 F.Supp., at 1471-1472; 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 66; M. Gonzalez-Wippler, The Santeria Experience 105 (1982).

     Santeria adherents faced widespread persecution in Cuba, so the religion and its rituals were practiced in secret. The open practice of Santeria and its rites remains infrequent. See 723 F.Supp., at 1470; 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 67; M. Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria: The Religion 3-4 (1989). The religion was brought to this Nation most often by exiles from the Cuban revolution. The District Court estimated that there are at least 50,000 practitioners in South Florida today. See 723 F.Supp., at 14704

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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