Court Gives Santeria Priest OK to Sacrifice Goats

Linda Stewart Ball, AP, July 31, 2009

A federal appeals court reversed a lower court’s ruling on Friday that barred a Santeria priest from sacrificing goats in his Texas home, saying a city’s decision to prohibit the ritual violated the man’s religious rights.

Jose Merced, 46, accuses the city of Euless, Texas, of trampling on his constitutional right to religious exercise. The city claims the sacrifices jeopardize public health and violate its slaughterhouse and animal cruelty ordinances.

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“It’s a great day for religious freedom in Texas,” said Eric Rassbach, Merced’s lawyer, in response to the three-judge panel’s ruling.

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Euless city attorney, William McKamie, said he plans to file a motion for a rehearing.

“We respectfully believe that it’s an incorrect finding on the purpose of application of the Texas Religious Freedom Act,” McKamie said.

In court papers, Rassbach described Santeria as an Afro-Cuban religion with a complex ritual for ordaining priests, including the sacrifice of up to nine four-legged animals, such as lambs or goats, up to 20 chickens or other fowl and a turtle.

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Merced asked the city for a permit to slaughter animals at his home but was told the practice was prohibited. He said he hasn’t been able to initiate any new priests in the past three years.

Euless attorneys have said the ordinances outlawing animal sacrifices were passed before Merced’s arrival in 1990 and don’t discriminate against any individual or group. McKamie also said Merced isn’t equipped to handle many animals on his property or dispose of them in a sanitary way.

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