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Exercise Religious Practices

  • Church of the Lukumi-Babalu Aye v. Hialeah
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder
  • What is Your Opinion?

Summary of a First Amendment Landmark Supreme Court case:
Church of the Lukumi-Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah 508 U.S. 520 (1993)

FACTS:

The Church of the Lukumi-Babalu Aye, Inc. was a Florida not-for-profit organization that practiced the Santeria religion. The Santeria religion is considered by some to be a "fusion" between the religion of the Yoruba people of Western Africa, who were brought as slaves to Cuba, and significant elements of Roman Catholicism. The Cuban Yoruba express their devotion to spirits, called orishas, through the iconography of Catholic saints; Catholic symbols are often present at Santeria rights; and Santeria devotees attend the Catholic sacraments. One of the principal forms of devotion in Santeria is animal sacrifice. Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites; for the cure of the sick; for the initiation of new members and priests; and during an annual celebration. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten at some ceremonies.

The Church leased land in the City of Hialeah, Florida, and announced plans to build a complex that included a house of worship, a school, a cultural center, and a museum. The prospect of a Santeria church was distressing to many members of the Hialeah community. In response, the city council held an emergency public session and subsequently passed several resolutions and ordinances aimed at preventing religious animal sacrifice. The local laws prohibited Santeria sacrifices; however, the laws contained exceptions for animal killings under comparable circumstances and for other religion-related purposes, including kosher slaughter.

The Church filed an action in a federal district court, alleging that the laws violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The district court ruled for the City, concluding that the laws' effect on religious practice was incidental to the purposes of protecting public health and welfare. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

ISSUE:

Whether the city laws directed at animal sacrifice as part of the Santeria religion violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?

RULING:

Yes.

REASONING:

(Kennedy, J.) Justice Kennedy concluded that the local laws violated the Free Exercise Clause because they were designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices.

The Free Exercise Clause provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." "The Free Exercise Clause commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of it practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures." Accordingly, "legislators may not devise mechanisms, overt or disguised to persecute or oppress a religion or its practice." Under the constitution, a law that is not neutral, but targets a specific action, and that does not apply generally to all people, but targets a specific group, must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and narrowly tailored to advance that interest.

The Court held that the purpose of the laws was to suppress the Santeria religion. The only conduct subject to the ordinances was animal sacrifice, the central element of the Santeria worship services, and they were therefore not neutral. The Court also held that the ordinances were not of general applicability but selectively targeted to conduct motivated by religious belief.

Further the court held that the local laws, which were not neutral or generally applied, were not narrowly tailored to a compelling governmental interest. The interests advanced by the city were protecting the public health and preventing animal cruelty. The Court found, however, that the city failed to establish that these interests were compelling because the ordinances only restricted conduct by the Church and the Santeria religion and not other similar conduct that created the same type of harm. For example, the laws did not prohibit the private slaughter of animals for food or kosher butchering. Further, the Court held that, even if the interests were somehow compelling, they could be achieved by more narrowly tailored laws that burdened religion to a far lesser degree.

CONCURRENCE:

(Scalia, J.) Justice Scalia asserted that the focus should be on the effects of the law, not the intention of the lawmakers, because it is virtually impossible to determine the singular "motive" of a collective legislative body. Further, he contended that because the effect of the laws at issue was to single out a religious practice for special burdens, the Court need not look at the motivation in passing the laws.

(Souter, J.) Justice Souter asserted that, in his opinion, a law that targets religion fails strict scrutiny. However, he noted that the Court did not address the more difficult situation of whether the Free Exercise Clause is violated by a law of general applicability that incidentally burdens religious practices.

Summary of a First Amendment Landmark Supreme Court case:
Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205 (1972)

FACTS:

The State of Wisconsin enacted a compulsory school attendance law which required all children to attend public or private school until attaining the age of 16. Practitioners of the Amish religion object to formal education beyond the eighth grade because it conflicts with the religious concepts central to their faith, takes adolescents away from the purposely closed Amish community during a crucial and formative period of their lives, and subjects them to influences in conflict with the Amish way of life.

Three residents, all of the Amish faith, declined to send their children, ages 14 and 15, to school after they completed the eighth grade. As a result of parents' decision not to send their children to school, they were each convicted of violating the law and fined $5 each.

ISSUE:

Whether Wisconsin's compulsory education law violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?

RULING:

Yes.

REASONING:

(Chief Justice Burger) The Court concluded that requiring Amish children to attend school beyond the eighth grade would violate their rights under the Free Exercise Clause. Specifically, the Court determined that the religious faith of the Amish and their mode of life are inseparable and interdependent, and that the enforcement of the Wisconsin compulsory education law "would gravely endanger if not destroy the free exercise of [their] religious beliefs."

The Court noted the inherent tension between the state's interest in universal formal education and the high value society places on parental direction of the religious upbringing and education of their children in their early and formative years. The Court concluded that a state's interest in universal education must be balanced against parents' interest in the religious upbringing of their children.

The Court held that the "fundamental interest" of parents to direct the religious upbringing of their children, combined with the burden placed on religious practices by Wisconsin's compulsory education law, outweighed the general interest of the state in educating its citizens. While the state made no particularized showing of how its interest would be adversely affected by granting an exemption to the Amish, the Amish parents introduced overwhelming evidence that forgoing one to two years of compulsory education would not impair the welfare of their children or society as a whole.

CONCURRENCE:

(Stewart, J.) Justice Stewart concurred in the judgment of the Court but cautioned that this would be a very different case if the Amish faith forbade children from attending school at all. According to Justice Stewart, while a high value is placed religious freedom, that value should not denigrate the interest of the state in enforcing minimal education standards.

DISSENT:

(Douglas, J.) Justice Douglas disagreed with the Court's reasoning on several grounds but primarily with its consideration only of the parents' rights, and not those of the children. According to Justice Douglas, the children's rights were put at issue in the case and "[w]here the child is mature enough to express potentially conflicting desires, it would be an invasion of the child's rights to permit such an imposition without canvassing his views." Because only one child had testified that her own religious views were opposed to high school, Justice Douglas joined in the judgment of the Court as to that child's father. Justice Douglas dissented from the judgment as to the other parents because the other children did not similarly testify.

What is Your Opinion?

  • Should the government be allowed to ban certain religious practices?

     

     

  • How should the government balance educational requirements and religious freedom?

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