Euless to ask court to rehear Santeria animal sacrifice case

Euless, USA - Euless plans to ask the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the appeal of a man who the court said could sacrifice animals at his home.

The court's decision last week allowing animal sacrifice in Euless as part of a religious practice under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act could adversely affect cities across the state, associate city attorney William McKamie warned.

But attorneys defending religious freedom decried McKamie's reaction to the decision as "fear mongering."

The case, decided by a three-judge panel, involved the right of Jose Merced, an adherent of a Caribbean religion called Santeria, to slaughter four-legged animals such as goats and lambs, as well as other animals such as chickens and turtles, in his Euless home as part of religious ceremonies.

In 2008, a lower court found in favor of the city, but on July 31 the 5th Circuit sent the case back for further proceedings, urging Euless to develop a permit for Santeria practitioners.

McKamie said he will file a motion for rehearing by the full court.

"Cities will now have to evaluate the religious practices within their community," McKamie said.

"That's the effect of the ruling," he said. "That's why we're filing a motion for rehearing. Cities have no business evaluating the religious practices and whether that particular practice is burdensome or not. ... But that's apparently what the 5th Circuit is ordering the city to do."

But Eric Rassbach, attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said McKamie is trying to whip up worries "because he wants to win his case."

"I don't think it's an issue for cities," Rassbach said, because complaints about the practice are few. "If it's not broke, why try and fix it? What is the problem that people are worried about?"

A couple of anonymous complaints in Euless brought the practice to light after Merced had been conducting the rituals for more than 15 years.

The 5th Circuit decision is "a great victory for people of all different religious faiths," Rassbach said, "because most faiths, at one point in their history or the other, have been unpopular. And I think we said in our brief that goat sacrifice is never going to be particularly popular in Euless, Texas but that's not the point. Religious liberty protections are only as good as they can be for the religions that need the help."

Douglas Laycock, a religious liberty expert at the University of Michigan School of Law, who consulted with Merced's attorneys, said Euless can ask for a rehearing before the full court, but he doubts it will do much good.

The Euless case was decided primarily on the basis of the Texas law, but in 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in another Santeria case out of Florida that animal cruelty laws targeting religious sacrifice are unconstitutional.

Rassbach agreed, noting that the "the city of Hialeah, Florida, lost their case at the Supreme Court, and they've been doing Santeria in Hialeah ever since and it hasn't presented ongoing problems."

Merced did not return a call for comment.

But after the court's decision, he told The Associated Press, "Now Santeros can practice their religion at home without being afraid of being fined, arrested or taken to court."