Civil Liberties

Getting His Goat

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Jose Merced, a Santeria priest in Euless, Texas, is challenging the city's refusal to let him sacrifice goats. Last month a federal judge upheld Euless' ban on animal sacrifice, and today the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an appeal on Merced's behalf with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

In Employment Division v. Smith, a 1988 case involving the Native American Church's peyote rituals, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "neutral laws of general applicability" do not violate the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom merely because they make it difficult or impossible for someone to practice his religion. But five years later, in a case that seems quite similar to Merced's, the Court unanimously overturned ordinances banning animal sacrifice in Hialeah, Florida. Since those ordinances, a direct response to the opening of a Santeria church, singled out the type of animal slaughter practiced by Santerians, the Court concluded they were not "neutral laws of general applicability." Hence they could be justified only if they were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, which they weren't. Although Euless claims to be protecting public health, it likewise prohibits religious slaughter in particular, while allowing the killing of deer and other animals for food. Becket Fund attorney Lori Windham asks:

Why is it okay to butcher a deer in Euless, but not a goat? The issue of Santeria and animal sacrifice has already been decided by the United States Supreme Court. I'm pretty sure the Constitution of the United States still applies in Euless, Texas.

Last year I explored the legal fallout from Smith in a reason story about religious use of drugs.

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  1. If the Court is going to look at anything, it should be the bullshit add that’s at the top of Reason’s homepage telling me that I am really and truly the 10,000 person…

    Crock of fucking shit.

  2. The judge misheard the guy — he didn’t ban the “sacrificing of goats”. He banned the “reprising of Goatse”.

  3. If the goat-sacrificer’s lawyer isn’t careful, he may find that the law firm employing him is, in fact, headed by Satan.

  4. Is there any reason you can’t eat the goat after you’ve sacrificed it? That cabrito is some good eatin’. . . .

  5. They should just switch to squirrels. There’s no bag limit and it’s open season year-round in Tarrant County.

  6. “Then there was the Moyez case. The direction you took: Popes, swamis and snake handlers all feeding at the same trough. Whose ideas were those?”

    Name that film.

  7. The Devil’s Advocate?

  8. How is animal sacrifice as practiced by these Santerians significantly different than the religiously mandated slaughtering techniques for Kosher and Halal foods?

    More importantly, why should the government care? It sure smells like religious bigotry to this disinterested atheist.

  9. tk wins an imaginary chocolate.

  10. How is animal sacrifice as practiced by these Santerians significantly different than the religiously mandated slaughtering techniques for Kosher and Halal foods?

    Funnily enough, the protagonist in The Devil’s Advocate uses precisely that argument to get his goat-slaughtering client off.

  11. Funnily enough, the protagonist in The Devil’s Advocate uses precisely that argument to get his goat-slaughtering client off.

    You’re shitting me! Should I read this book?

  12. I’m with J sub D. From the article:

    “Santeria priests are trained to perform humane ritual sacrifice and the animals are consumed in a communal meal after the ceremony.”

    So, in short: they’re killing and eating a goat. It sure appears that the only reason this is illegal is that it’s accompanied by a religious ceremony. Hard to see this standing up in court.

  13. I don’t practice Santeria,

    I ain’t got no crystal ball…

  14. You’re shitting me! Should I read this book?

    Movie, and yes, it’s quite decent. Al Pacino is quite fun.

    Apparently it’s based on a book, but the book itself is so unnotable that its Wikipedia entry is blank despite being made into a major-studio film.

  15. re: Devil’s Advocate

    Also, did I mention that Charlize Theron, Connie Nielson, and Tamara Tunie get nekkid in it?

  16. Re Devil’s Advocate movie:

    May qualify to be worth watching in the category of so bad it’s good.

    Not as highly ranked in that category as, say, Showgirls.

  17. Also, did I mention that Charlize Theron, Connie Nielson, and Tamara Tunie get nekkid in it?

    Say no more. I’m off to Blockbuster!

  18. “Santeria priests are trained to perform humane ritual sacrifice . . .”

    There’s a typo there – you added an “e” to the end of “human.”

  19. Santeria believers also sacrifice chickens and doves, so why single out goats?

    My stepdaughter’s neighbor in Miami is a santero and is always feeding some mystery meat to her dog. Her Argentino husband is always freaked out by this, he thinks the dog is gonna go all psycho.

  20. they’re killing and eating

    That’s good enough for me. If it was just the killing, I’d be way against it.

  21. Santeria believers also sacrifice chickens and doves, so why single out goats?

    See also: Thoroughbreds.

    As a “gambler”, I was always quite happy knowing that a ‘Frenchman’ might possibly be eating one of my ‘losers’!

    Frickin’ Gov’t!

  22. I don’t practice Santeria,

    I ain’t got no crystal ball…

    I can’t believe someone beat me to the obligatory Sublime reference.

    Boo.

  23. I sure it’ll just take a few needles in the eye of a judge doll to get it all sorted out.

  24. I’m

    Me type purty.

  25. I am a serious Catholic, and there is no doubt in my mind that Santeria is wrong. In fact, on any given day, I think most of my clients are wrong. But in America, if everyone does not have religious liberty, then no one has religious liberty. Therefore, it is important to defend the right to be wrong.

  26. Kevin “Seamus” Hasson
    founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
    author of “The Right to be Wrong.”

  27. Frankly I can respect Santeros who believe in animal sacrifice more than I can fundamentalist twits who believe Adam and Eve road the dinosaurs to church.

    At least the Santeria believers don’t try to impose their beliefs on schoolchildren – “Everyone wear red underwear today in honor of Chango” – and they do have some cool music and tasty goat meat.

  28. Don’t care that much, but neither should the authoritas.

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