Is animal sacrifice legal in the United States?

On my understanding of this complicated aspect of American law, animal sacrifice is legal in the United States provided it does not contravene animal welfare laws concerning the humane killing of animals which is an inherently tricky and contentious subject of discussion. It seems that animal sacrifice is protected by the principle that government can’t create laws which suppress religious belief or practice. That principle is enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. That’s my interpretation. Comments welcome.

Santeria religion
Santeria religion. Photo: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer.

There is a major case on the matter concerning the city of Hialeah, Florida. The church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye was planning on setting up a church in the city. They practice Santeria which includes animal sacrifice. The animals sacrificed in these rituals include chickens, pigeons, dogs, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep and turtles. The animals are killed by the cutting of the carotid arteries in the neck. This method is apparently considered humane and does not violate animal welfare laws in the US. The sacrificed animals are cooked and eaten except after healing and death rituals according to the United States Supreme Court judgement in this case dated June 11, 1993.

The city council wanted to stop the church conducting animal sacrifice as part of their religious ceremonies and they created a law which banned it. The church challenged their ordnance and the case went up to the District Court and then to the Court of Appeal. These court supported the city. The issue then went up to the Supreme Court who reversed the judgement of the Court of Appeals and enforced the First Amendment.

The issue of animal sacrifice crosses over several layers of American law. Firstly, there is the complication of city laws, county laws, state laws and federal laws. They can’t be in conflict. And then you’ve got animal welfare laws both federal and at the state level. And then of course underpinning it all is the constitution of the US. So, all these layers of the law have to be in harmony which makes things very difficult in a matter which challenges the social norms of the US.

The most important of these laws is the constitution and that can’t be violated. And that protects freedom of expression in religion which as I understand it protects this ancient custom of sacrifice. However, it cannot clash with animal welfare.

The interesting point that always comes up in this discussion is the fact that people eat billions of animals every year in America and in other countries of the world. These animals are killed in abattoirs which are pretty brutal places. However, there are laws governing how animals are killed in abattoirs. It must be done humanely. And they are stunned before they are killed. The purpose is to prevent the animal experiencing pain.

However, halal meat is produced slitting animals’ throats. This is said to cause pain. There is a big discussion in Britain about halal meat. Veterinarians in general want it banned but the government supports the killing of animals by sitting the throat. It is less humane than the conventional way of killing animals for meat. The problem is similar to the one discussed on this page. It’s about respecting religious sensibilities while at the same time protecting animal rights and not submitting them to unnecessary pain and distress.

There is a conflict here between animal welfare and rights and religious rights (human rights). This conflict is at the heart of the CHURCH OF THE LUKUMI BABALU AYE, INC., ET AL. v. CITY OF HIALEAH case.

It’s a fine balancing act, a very complicated one in which judges disagree as you can see by the way that the case went all the way to the Supreme Court with different opinions.

My personal views on animal sacrifice are unimportant but I’m going to express them. It is a barbaric, ridiculous and ancient practice based on superstition which should be banned worldwide. Yes, I have strong views about it. It’s a practice which just feeds the ridiculously superstitious mind of humans. Although I respect people’s rights to practice their religion, I also don’t believe in religion. I am an atheist and an animal welfare advocate. People like me would object to animal sacrifice in religious ceremonies. One day, perhaps in a thousand years, humankind will look back at this time and see it as horribly barbaric.

Below are some articles on animal rights.

Leave a Comment

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
follow it link and logo

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

At heart this site is about ANTHROPOCENTRISM meaning a human-centric world.

Post Category: Animal sacrifice