Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye

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Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye

The Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye is a public center in the greater Miami, Florida, metropolitan area of what is generally a secretive religious community, Santeria. In the years since the Cuban Revolution (1959), a large expatriate community has emerged in southern Florida among whom Santeria is a significant religion. Santeria is often associated with voudou and other African-based religions that were brought with the slaves in the nineteenth century. It is based on the worship of the deities called orishas. It is a magical religion in which the practice of spells for healing, love, and improvement of life are common. Worship is centered upon the acknowledgment of the presence of the deities who are often seen to possess the priest or priestess or members of the group. Santeria took on much of its secretive quality under the pressure of a dominant Christian culture that attempted to suppress it.

In the relatively free atmosphere of Miami, Ernesto Pichardo, his brother Fernando Pichardo, and Paul Rodriguez (now deceased) founded the church at the beginning of the 1970s. Leading the church was Iyolusha Carmen Plá Oni Yemay, who had been ordained to the priesthood in 1970 by Apetebi Orunmla Ramona Ojeda. The church was incorporated in 1974. It operated quietly, though Ernesto Pichardo taught a class on the religion at the Miami-Dade Community College. However, in the mid-1980s, the group decided to purchase a building in suburban Hialeah and begin holding public services. The action focused some attention on the church and on a particular aspect of Santeria that brought the most offense to the larger community, the practice of animal sacrifice.

A short time after the opening of the church, the city of Hialeah passed a series of ordinances that attempted to outlaw animal sacrifice. The city defended its actions on the grounds that it wanted to prevent animal cruelty, the spread of disease, and the traumatization of children (though none of these had been a problem reported within the Santeria community). The church decided to fight the case, which landed on the docket of the Supreme Court in 1993. The Hialeah ordinances were struck down.

The church is located at 3720 SW 108th St., Hialeah, FL 33165. Website:


Resnick, Rosalind. "To One City, It's Cruelty. To Cultists, It's Religion." National Law Journal (September 11, 1989).

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Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye

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