Public Health

On Friday the Priest Got His Goat


Last year I noted the case of Jose Merced, a Santeria priest in Euless, Texas, who was fighting the city's ban on animal slaughter as a violation of his religious freedom. Merced, who performed animal sacrifices at his house for 16 years without incident until he got into trouble after someone ratted him out in 2006, unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the city in U.S. District Court. But he appealed that decision with help from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Euless' attempt to stop him from sacrificing animals violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA). Under that law, legal restrictions that impose a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion are permissible only if they are the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. The 5th Circuit concluded that the city's asserted interests in protecting public health and safety could be satisfied without preventing Merced from practicing his religion. Because Merced won on statutory grounds, the court did not address the question of whether Euless' sacrifice ban also violates the First Amendment. A 1990 Supreme Court decision substantially narrowed the grounds for overturning laws that interfere with religious freedom (a development that gave rise to the TRFRA as well as similar laws in other states and at the federal level). But Merced's case bore a striking resemblance to a 1993 case in which the Court nevertheless overturned a ban on animal sacrifice in Hialeah, Florida, that was challenged by Santeria practitioners there.

The 5th Circuit decision in Jose Merced v. City of Euless is here (PDF). The Becket Fund has a press release here.

discussed religious freedom and drug rituals in a 2007 Reason article.