Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)

The Supreme Court held that ordinances enacted by the City of Hialeah, Florida, banning animal sacrifice violated the Free Exercise Clause, despite the fact that the ordinances were defended as being neutral and of general applicability. The decision thus was an important step back from the earlier Smith case, which had held that ordinances of general applicability could not be subjected to strict constitutional scrutiny.

While not overruling Smith, the Court looked behind the text of the ordinances as well as the history of their enactment and found that they specifically targeted the Santeria religion, in which animal sacrifice is an important ritual, stating, “Our review confirms that the laws in question were enacted by officials who did not understand, failed to perceive, or chose to ignore the fact that their official actions violated the Nation’s essential commitment to religious freedom.”

The Court also said about the city’s attempt to curtail the religion’s freedoms, “The Free Exercise Clause commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.”