What is Santería?

Santería is a practiced religion in parts of West Africa and the Caribbean and combines tribal rituals with Roman Catholicism.  There is a large amount of controversy involved in practicing the religion because animal sacrifices are practiced by followers of the religion, called Santerians. 


Santerians use small animals and chickens during sacrifice rituals.  The rituals are used during the initiation of new members and during times of misfortune or sickness as well.  It is common for Santerians to sacrifice animals during birth, marriage, and death ceremonies as well. 


How do Santerians Defend the Practice of the Religion?

Followers of Santería defend the religion and sacrificing of animals by claiming the following:


·         the animals are killed in a way that is humane

·         the animals are normally eaten after the ceremony

·         million of animals are slaughtered by commercial establishments in the United States every year

·         their Orisha (or manifestations of God) require the sacrifices for food

·         animal sacrifices have been practiced in religions for thousands of years

·         the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion


Case Involving the Practice of Santería

Several cases have reached the Supreme Court concerning the practice of the religion.  One of the most famous cases is described below:


Church of Lukumi Babalu v. City of Hialeah

The Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye initially leased land from the city of Hialeah in Florida to build a church, cultural center, and school on the grounds.  The city of Hialeah knew that the religion would be practiced on the grounds, so the city decided to pass several ordinance to make the sacrificing of animals illegal. 


Some of the important ordinances are listed below:


·         Ordinance 87-40 made it illegal to “unnecessarily or cruelly” kill an animal

·         Ordinance 87-52 made it illegal to kill any animal for a sacrifice or slaughter an animal unless the slaughter occurred by a licensed establishment

·         Ordinance 87-72 made the slaughtering of animals illegal outside of slaughterhouses but made an exemption for a small number of livestock


The Court initially ruled that the city ordinances made the Santería rituals illegal, but the case was appealed and the Supreme Court reversed the judgment.  Justice Kennedy ruled that initial finds spoke strongly against “practices which are inconsistent with public morals, [and] peace of safety.”  Kennedy ruled that if the main intentions of the city were to protect against the cruelty to animals, less restrictive ordinances could have been established. 


Santería and Media Attention

Santería has received a large amount of media attention over the last couple of decades, and some of the incidences never involved the practice of the religion in the first place.  One incident occurred in January of 1998 when a New York girl was found suffocated with a plastic bag around her head.  The mother had started practicing the religion shortly before the death of the child, and she was eventually found not guilty on the basis of insanity. 


Another incident occurred in 1989 when more than a dozen men were murdered along the Texas border at Matamoros, Mexico.  The media quickly started blaming certain religions and particularly Santerians, but investigation later found the murders were committed by gang members. 




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