• Facially neutral laws can violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment if they are enacted with a clear intent to suppress conduct motivated by religious belief


  • Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)

Issues & Arguments

  • Did the City's ordinances violate the First Amendment even though they were neutral laws of general applicability?

People & Organizations



  • In 1987, the Church purchased a building in the City of Hialeah intending to openly practice the Santeria faith, which involves the ritual sacrifice of animals
  • In response, the City banned ritual animal sacrifices but exempted Kosher slaughterhouses, regular slaughterhouses, hunting, fishing, pest extermination, euthanasia of stray animals, and feeding live rabbits to greyhounds
  • Throughout the process, the City expressed open hostility to the Santeria faith and held that their religious practices were abhorrent to its citizens
  • In 1989, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of the City


  • The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, holding that the City's actions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Although the enactments were facially neutral, they were clearly enacted with the intent of suppressing the religious conduct of the Church.
  • Justices Blackman and O'Connor concurred in the judgment only, stating that Employment Division v. Smith was wrongly decided


  • Along with Employment Division v. Smith, Lukumi is the primary authority used to determine whether a law violates the Free Exercise Clause
  • Andrew has suggested that recent cases like Trinity Lutheran, Trump v. Hawaii, and Masterpiece Cakeshop show that the Court applies a stricter standard to laws that restrict Christianity as opposed to other religions

Related Cases


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See also