Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Animal Sacrifice Definition:

To unnecessarily kill, torment, torture, or mutilate an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption.

In Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v City of Hialeah, the Supreme Court of the United States used these words in the reasons for judgment, albeit rife with dissenting opinions throughout:

"The sacrifice of animals as part of religious rituals has ancient roots. Animal sacrifice is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, and it played an important role in the practice of Judaism before destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem. In modern Islam, there is an annual sacrifice commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in the stead of his son....

"Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. (Church), is a not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law. The Church and its congregants practice the Santeria religion.... According to Santeria teaching, the or is has are powerful but not immortal. They depend for survival on the sacrifice. Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites, for the cure of the sick, for the initiation of new members and priests, and during an annual celebration. Animals sacrificed in Santeria rituals include chickens, pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles. The animals are killed by the cutting of the carotid arteries in the neck. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten, except after healing and death rituals...

"In September 1987, the (City of Hileah) adopted three substantive ordinances addressing the issue of religious animal sacrifice. Ordinance 87-52 defined sacrifice as to unnecessarily kill, torment, torture, or mutilate an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption, and prohibited owning or possessing an animal intending to use such animal for food purposes. It restricted application of this prohibition, however, to any individual or group that kills, slaughters or sacrifices animals for any type of ritual, regardless of whether or not the flesh or blood of the animal is to be consumed."


  • Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 US 520 (1993). The Court was persuaded that the City's ordinance suppressed religious conduct in excess of what was necessary and it was held to be unconstitutional. In his decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “(R)eligious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
  • Holzer, Mark, Contradictions Will Out: Animal Rights vs. Animal Sacrifice in the Supreme Court, 1 Animal L. 83 (1995)

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