FORT WORTH, Texas — A federal judge yesterday ruled against a Santeria priest who challenged an animal-slaughter ban on the grounds it interfered with his right to perform religious sacrifices in his Euless home.
Jose Merced said he might appeal the ruling.
“I’m a little surprised about it,” he said, adding that Euless, a Fort Worth suburb, had not received any complaints about the practice before May 2006.
At the end of the one-day trial, U.S. District Judge John McBryde said Euless was protecting the public’s health by banning animal slaughtering in the city limits but that Merced could do the rituals elsewhere.
Nearly two years ago, a Euless police officer and animal control officer went to Merced’s house after receiving a tip that his congregation was sacrificing goats, according to documents. Merced said he would not sacrifice any animals at a ceremony planned for the next day, but a month later he tried to get a city permit for the ceremonies.
When Euless denied his request, Merced filed a federal lawsuit in late 2006, saying the city had infringed on his religious freedom. Last year, the officials offered a settlement allowing Merced to kill chickens, which city law allows, but not goats, citing city rules that prohibit animal cruelty, keeping livestock and disposing of animal waste. Merced declined.
Euless officials said they were pleased with the judge’s ruling, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in its online edition yesterday.
“Public health is one of the most compelling interests that cities protect,” said Mick McKamie, the city’s attorney for the case.
Believers say animal sacrifices are an essential devotion in Santeria, a religion born in Cuba by Yoruba slaves who fused elements of Roman Catholicism with beliefs they brought with them from Africa. Adherents later brought Santeria to the U.S. during the Cuban revolution.
Santerians believe in spiritual forces called Orishas, whose survival depends on blood sacrifices.