Sunday Sermonette: I don't practice Santaria
I don't understand why a Dallas suburb won't give a Santeria priest a permit to ritually sacrifice animals in the privacy of his own home. Actually I'm somewhat surprised that a permit is necessary. Even so, I don't think a city should be required to allow religiously-motivated practices that would be illegal if they were undertaken for secular reasons:
On the other hand, it's possible that the suburb trumped up a law against in-house animal slaughter just to thwart Santeria practitioners, or that they're just enforcing an obscure law because they don't like Santeria.
EULESS — Sued by a Santeria priest barred from sacrificing animals in his home, this Dallas suburb has asked a federal judge to dismiss a religious discrimination lawsuit on grounds that making an exception forces the city to favor a religion over secular law.
Jose Merced, 45, alleges that city officials denied him a permit to perform Santeria ceremonies that include slaughtering chickens and goats inside his home, even though people outside would not have been able to see or hear them.
Merced has argued that he doesn't want to break the law but is entitled to practice his religion, which mixes Roman Catholicism with African beliefs and demands blood sacrifices.
But in a motion to dismiss filed Jan. 24, the city argues that a 2000 federal law forcing local governments to show a compelling public interest before limiting a religious practice is unconstitutional, since it intrudes on a state's right to regulate the health and welfare of its residents.
City attorney William McKamie said because Euless' ban on animal slaughter is a health and safety issue, any exception means the city would effectively endorse Santeria over city law.[AP]
Update: I wasn't very clear in my original post. I didn't mean to imply that the Santeria priest has the right to break any laws that conflict with his favorite rituals. On the contrary, I'm tentatively siding with the city in this case because a religiously neutral law should trump religious expression.
However, I also think it's unfair to prohibit a practice that would be permitted for secular reasons simply because it's carried out for spiritual reasons. So, if the city of Euless lets you cut off chickens' heads for food, I don't see why you shouldn't be allowed to do the same thing for spiritual gratification.
Ultimately meat eating and animal sacrifice are in the same category: Gratifying but not essential for survival or physical well-being. If I kill a chicken for food, I'm doing so for my own sensual pleasure. If I'm allowed to kill animals just because I'm aesthetically gratified by chicken parm or leather shoes, surely a priest should be allowed to kill animals to ensure the emotional satisfaction of his human flock.
I know a lot of people disagree with me about the morality of killing animals for food. Yet, even most vegetarians don't support a legal ban on killing livestock. So, in the interest of consistency, I think that it's only fair to let this Santeria priest have the same privileges as a backyard chicken farmer.
If the city has a good health reason for prohibiting ritual slaughter at home, then religion is no defense. If the guy is actually doing something that's potentially dangerous, the city should make him stop. If he's torturing animals or otherwise violating existing animal cruelty laws, he should be dealt with severely. If he's just violating a pure food law that was intended to apply to commercial food producers, then maybe the city should consider changing the law--assuming he's not hurting anyone.
However, if the priest is just slitting some chickens' throats at home and not endangering anyone else, I don't really see a problem with his behavior--especially if the neighbors are allowed to do similar things for their culinary delectation without being harassed by the police.