Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah 508 U.S. 520 (1993)

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The Lukumi religion, of West African origin, migrated to Cuba in the nineteenth century with the slave population, and became known as Santería; in our own time Lukumi has migrated to Florida. Several important rituals require the sacrifice of food animals to orishas, the Lukumi pantheon of spiritual beings. This practice led the City of Hialeah to enact several ordinances prohibiting animal sacrifice. The Supreme Court unanimously held that these ordinances violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment because they had "targeted" religious practices. Justice anthony m. kennedy wrote for the Court.

The city argued that the ordinances were valid means to protect public health and prevent cruelty to animals. But, the Court said, the "targeting" of religion was demonstrated by the ordinances' references to "sacrifice" and to "certain religions," and more generally by their over-inclusiveness (e.g., forbidding ritual slaughtering even in licensed slaughterhouses) and underinclusiveness (e.g., exempting Kosher slaughtering and leaving unregulated both hunting and slaughtering for food purposes). Kennedy also said "targeting" was evident in statements of city council members indicating a motivation to stamp out the Lukumi religion. Justice antonin scalia, joined by Chief Justice william h. rehnquist, dissociated himself from this view, saying that subjective motive was irrelevant; "targeting" was to be found in the words of the ordinances.

Justices david h. souter and harry a. blackmun (joined by Justice sandra day o'connor), concurring, suggested reconsideration of the holding in employment division, department of human resources of oregon v. smith (1990) that the free exercise clause has no application to incidental effects on religious liberty caused by laws of general application. If, as Lukumi suggests, "targeting" can be proved by showings of overinclusiveness and underinclusiveness, government officials will be well advised to offer legitimate (nontargeted) reasons for the actions that have restricted religious freedom. A judicial inquiry into "targeting" may, as in Lukumi, lead to an inquiry into the weight of asserted government interests. Such inquiries have the potential to undermine the "rule" of Smith, even if Smith escapes overruling.

Kenneth L. Karst


Karst, Kenneth L. 1993 Religious Freedom and Equal Citizenship: Reflections on Lukumi. Tulane Law Review 69:335–372.

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Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah 508 U.S. 520 (1993)

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