|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.
|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.