Animal Sacrifice and Religious Freedom
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah
David M. O'Brien
The Santeria religion of Cuba—the Way of the Saints—mixes West AfricanYoruba culture with Catholicism. Similar to Haitian voodoo, Santeria has long practiced animal sacrifice in certain rites. But when Cuban immigrants brought those rituals to Florida, local authorities were suddenly confronted with a controversial situation that pitted the regulation of public health and morality against religious freedom.
After Ernesto Pichardo established a Santeria church in Hialeah in the 1980s, the city of Hialeah responded by passing ordinances banning ritual animal sacrifice. Although on the surface those ordinances seemed general in intent, they were clearly aimed at Pichardo's church. When Pichardo subsequently sued the city, a federal court ruled in the latter's favor, in effect privileging the regulation of public health and morality over the church's free exercise of its religion.
“American religious historians will find here a readable case study that illuminates the intersection of law and minority religious experience.”
—Religious Studies Review
“O’Brien’s study is well written and provides ample background on the significance and history of the interpretations of the first amendment’s clauses dealing with religion, as well as an even-handed, balanced presentation of arguments on both sides of the case. . . . O'Brien’s study is written so as to engage the general, nonacademic reader interested in the topic of freedom of religion, American pluralism, and a story of the underdog against the state. It will be the definitive study of this landmark Supreme Court case for a long time to come.”
—American Historical ReviewSee all reviews...
“This book contains an excellent account of the current state of jurisprudence in the area of religious liberty. Highly recommended.”
“Students of immigration, jurisprudence, religion, and animal rights will find this study intriguing.”
—History: Reviews of New Books
“An engaging book. O’Brien has done a wonderful service to scholars of law, religion, immigration,and American history. . . . The book should be received with appreciation and acclaim by general readers and experts alike, and should shed some welcome light on the flourishing African-derived religions in the United States, which are still so misunderstood and maligned in popular discourse. This is a fascinating story well told, which should be a source of pride for those whose relationship to the divine entails animal sacrifice, and to anyone who cherishes religious freedom as one of the greatest things about the United States.”
—Florida Historical Quarterly
“A fascinating tale told with OBrien’s signature stylish flair and deep understanding of the legal issues central to this case. Should appeal to anyone who loves a great story and cares about the tug-of-war between government regulation and religious freedom.”
—Nadine Strossen, President, American Civil Liberties Union, and Professor of Law, New York Law School
“A riveting, blow-by-blow account of one of the most interesting religious freedom cases to be decided by the Supreme Court in the twentieth century. The mix of unorthodox religious practice, religious persecution, political intrigue, and pursuit of justice make for a superb story that will fascinate general and expert readers alike.”
—Derek Davis, author of Original Intent: Chief Justice Rehnquist and the Course of American Church/State Relations
“OBrien is both a fine scholar and master storyteller and his book is an important contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of minority religion in America. He has a sharp eye for colorful characters as well as legal principle, and he guides us easily through the tangled immigrant politics of South Florida, the history of American law concerning religious freedom, and the exchanges among litigants, amici, attorneys, and judges on the road to decision.”
—Joseph M. Murphy, author of Santeria: African Spirits in AmericaSee fewer reviews...
The U.S. Supreme Court heard Pichardo's appeal in 1993 and unanimously decided that the city had overstepped its bounds in targeting this particular religious group; however, the court was sharply divided regarding the basis of its decision. Three concurring opinions registered distinctly different views of the First Amendment, the limits of government regulation, and the religious freedom of minorities. In the end, the nine justices collectively concluded that freedom of religious belief was absolute while the freedom to practice the tenets of any faith were subject to non-discriminatory local regulations.
David O'Brien, one of America's foremost scholars of the Court, now illuminates this controversy and its significance for law, government, and religion in America. His lively account takes us behind the scenes at every stage of the litigation to reveal a riveting case with more twists and turns than a classic whodunit. Ranging with equal ease from primitive magic to municipal politics and to the most arcane points of constitutional law, O'Brien weaves a compelling and instructive tale with a fascinating array of politicians, lawyers, jurists, civil libertarians, and animal rights advocates. Offering sharp insights into the key issues and personalities, he highlights cultural clashes large and small, while maintaining a balance for both the needs of government and the religious rights of individuals.
The "Santeria case" reaffirmed that our laws must be generally applicable and neutral and may not discriminate against particular religions. Tracing the path to that conclusion, Animal Sacrifice and Religious Freedom provides a provocative and learned account of one of the most unusual and contentious religious freedom cases in American history.