Texas city of Euless offers settlement in Santeria case

A Santeria priest who is suing Euless over his religious practice of animal sacrifice would be allowed to kill chickens and hold small weekly gatherings at his home under a settlement offered by city attorneys.

But the proposal would continue to prohibit the sacrifice of goats – a practice that Jose Merced says is as essential to Santeria as communion is to Catholics. And it would limit the gatherings to 25 people.

Mr. Merced said he will reject the city’s offer as a restriction on his religious freedom.

“You cannot do initiations without an animal with four legs. You cannot do it with just chickens,” he said. “Without that, the religion ceases to exist.”

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Euless’ attorney, William McKamie, did not return a call for comment. But the settlement letter said the remedies had been made to remove any substantial burden on Mr. Merced’s free exercise of religion.

Mr. Merced filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Euless in December after police and permit officials told him he couldn’t kill goats for a ceremony initiating new members.

Followers of the African-Caribbean religion believe that the energy contained in blood from animal sacrifice opens a channel of direct communication with the spirits, known as orishas.

In January, the city asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the city’s slaughter ban applies to everybody and that making an exception for Mr. Merced would force the city to become entangled in religion.

The case could call into question a federal land-use law that requires local governments to have a compelling public interest before enforcing an ordinance that could limit the practice of religion.

Euless attorneys have argued that the land-use law is unconstitutional because it intrudes on a local government’s right to regulate the health and welfare of its residents.

But Mr. Merced and his supporters say that the U.S. Supreme Court has already settled the issue of Santeria animal sacrifice.

In 1993, the court struck down an ordinance adopted by Hialeah, Fla., which prohibited animal sacrifice but made exceptions for hunting, fishing and the euthanasia of pets.

Euless’ ordinance, on the books since 1974, makes exceptions for the killing of chickens and turkeys for meals. The city also allows fishing and euthanasia at animal shelters.

Euless’ settlement offer would allow Mr. Merced to hold gatherings at his house. But they must not be visible to the general public, include more than 25 people or occur more than five times a month.

The city said in the letter that the restrictions would comply with ordinances regulating assemblies in residential neighborhoods.

Mr. Merced called the offer “ignorant,” saying he doesn’t hold regular gatherings. When he does have a gathering, he usually has about 15 people, he said, though once he hosted 200 people for a drum-playing ceremony for the orishas.

“They probably think I’m holding Masses or church every Sunday,” he said. “They just don’t understand.”

“What if you have a barbecue or a birthday party? And what about Thanksgiving?”

Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Dallas Morning News, USA
Mar. 20, 2007
Michael Grabell
www.dallasnews.com

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