Chicken Wars


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a Hialeah, Florida, ordinance outlawing the ritual slaughter of animals. Carefully worded to allow for the preparation of kosher meat, the law was specifically aimed at stopping the animal sacrifices practiced by followers of Santeria.

Brought to Florida by Cuban immigrants, Santeria is a mix of Roman Catholicism and the ancient African religion of Yoba. Practitioners offer up prayers to the saints for divine intervention in their lives, and on special occasions animals are sacrificed to help win a saint's favor.

The ACLU is suing to overturn the law, and it has attracted the support of a large number of religious leaders. The Rutherford Institute, the Christian Legal Society, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and the First Liberty Institute have all filed friend-of-the-court briefs asking that the law be overturned.

In 1990 the Supreme Court held in Employment Division v. Smith that a person's religious beliefs do not exempt him from complying with "neutral and generally applicable laws." The ACLU argues that the Florida law is not "neutral and generally applicable" because it singles out religious practices.

"You can still kill a chicken in Hialeah," observes Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Florida ACLU. "You just can't pray over it when you do it."