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Need To Sacrifice Animals For Your Religion? Just Don’t Torture Them To Death

Got your attention?  Good.  I came across a recent incident that makes you think… about animal cruelty.  Specifically, it begs the question of whether or not it’s legal. 

Now I know the bulk of you, meaning everyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with Nichael Rick, have probably already jumped to the immediate conclusion that abusing animals isn’t legal… and you’d be correct (see the aforementioned Nichael Rick if you need some convincing). 

But the interesting aspect of the CNN story above is that it seems to present a possible loophole to this long held notion. 

For those of you too busy to click on the link I provide, apparently a group of people in Philadelphia have been arrested for alleged animal cruelty charges.  The people are followers of Santeria, a religion originating from West Africa and the Caribbean.  Part of practicing Santeria is the ritual sacrifice of animals.  And you all know the rest of the story.  Since the U.S. Constitution forbids persecuting people for their religious beliefs, prosecuting Santerians for practicing their religion, even if that practice is harming animals, is unconstitutional. 

But before all of you get up in arms over this, the article seems to make the distinction that as long as the sacrifices are deemed to be done humanely, no one will likely be prosecuted.  In case you might be thinking that murdering an animal is never humane, you might want to take that up with the beef, pork, and poultry industry, and also put down that steak knife.  And if you’re already a vegan and meat industry protestor, then…I’ve got nothing.  Hopefully times will change in your favor one day (personally I can’t give up a good rib eye). 

You should also take into account that the animals being sacrificed were farm animals and not puppies and kittens, if that makes any difference to you.  So don’t worry, having dogs maul each other to death for the amusement and profit of onlookers will likely never be legal.  Even if someone attaches a religion label to it, I’m sure no one would ever consider that a humane way for an animal to go to the pearly gates.

Anyway, the article brings up the larger question of religious freedom and civil rights.  Looking through the LegalMatch database, it seems like an apt question, too, as cases regarding religion and civil rights appear to be a regular fixture.

The First and Fourteenth Amendment guarantee freedom from governmental persecution for one’s religion, but as you all might’ve already noticed, that freedom isn’t as broad as it sounds and doesn’t necessarily extend to everything.  Sure the government can usually stay out of your business for things like abortion and birth control, but try claiming you’re hitting up the crack pipe because your god commands you to do it, and you’ll be heading to the slammer; or at the very least a rehab clinic plus a fine.

Bottom line is that generally the amendments protecting you from religious prosecution only prevent government interference (as well as unfair treatment from your employer) as long as the religious practice you’re partaking in doesn’t offend public policy. 

How do you determine if something offends public policy?  Well, as they say, that’s for the courts to decide.  It’s also a matter for the legislature, too, but that doesn’t sound as cool.


  • Quora

    Are there any extreme religious acts in America which are tolerated, but would otherwise be deemed illegal by law?

    There’s quite a few examples. My person favorites are @, snake handling, and polygamy.

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