The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

Holy Fight Ministries Loses Cockfighting Religious Freedom Lawsuit


From Judge Brian A. Jackson's opinion yesterday in Plumbar v. Perrilloux (M.D. La.):

[T]he Louisiana Criminal Code … makes it unlawful for any person to … "organize or conduct any commercial or private cockfight wherein there is a display of combat or fighting among one or more domestic or feral chickens and in which it is intended or reasonably foreseeable that the chickens would be injured, maimed, mutilated, or killed."

Plaintiffs … argue that the burden imposed on their religious practice of cockfighting is at odds with the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act ("LPRFA"). They adequately summarize the core of their argument in the following syllogism: "[i]f the use of peyote, a Schedule I drugs [sic], is permitted…then it stands to reason that an exception should be carved out…for the Plaintiffs and their congregation [to engage in cockfighting] to practice their faith." …

Several photographs taken during a police raid were offered by [the government]. The photos depicted a cockfighting arena littered with discarded food and alcohol containers; a handwritten betting ledger; "cockhouse" fees and membership rules; rooster corpses; and other indicators of a commercial cockfighting operation. Signs were discovered in the area, including one reading "Milk Dairy Game Club House Rules," and another smaller sign reading "Holy Fight Ministries"—apparently the only indicator of any religious object in the facility. At oral argument, Plaintiffs argued that while they lease the premises from the Game Club, they are not a commercial operation and were not present the night of the raid when the incriminating evidence was seized….

[Plaintiffs] are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims [1] because Defendants have provided satisfactory evidence to show that the state has a compelling interest in enacting a law banning cockfighting and [2] because the evidence casts doubt upon the type of institution operated by Plaintiffs. In other words, the evidence suggests that the cockfighting activities were more commercial in nature than a bona fide religious ritual….