Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

rescued from religious rites

A new baby bird arrived at Poplar Spring last Sunday – a baby guinea hen, who they have named Arabelle.


She was found on a DC sidewalk, a more common occurrence than you might expect! Many of the feathered residents of Poplar Spring have been rescued in similar ways, though chickens are the most common to be rescued from these types of situations. Terry says that they are found in all parts of DC, so it is pretty random in terms of location. The reason, the speculation goes, is Santeria. Santeria, as is common (even if only historically) in many religions, has ritual animal sacrifice as a common part of the belief. There is apparently a fairly large following in the DC area. I know that at NYC live animal markets, many of the birds are also bought for animal sacrifice reasons.

I find it disturbing. Looking back at just about any religion will show you that they’re fairly bathed in blood, so that is not much of a surprise, but I still find myself disconcerted to know that there are people living in my area right now who believe in and practice animal sacrifice. And even as I type that, I see the irony.

The wiki article on Santeria implies that animal rights activists were an influencing factor in a case that ended up at the supreme court, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, but I am not convinced – it looks like the town board was simply uncomfortable with the religion’s rites. I’m also annoyed that the wiki article states the reason animal rights activists “take issue with” the sacrifice is because they “claim it is cruel.” Santeria practitioners, naturally, claim they kill only in humane ways.

The article regarding the case that was brought to the supreme court says:

It was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held unconstitutional an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida that forbade the “unnecessar[y]” killing of “an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption.” The law was enacted soon after the city council of Hialeah learned that the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, which practiced Santería, was planning on locating. Santeria is a religion practiced in the Americas by the descendants of Africans; many of its rituals involve animal sacrifice. The church filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking for the Hialeah ordinance to be declared unconstitutional.

Adhering to Employment Division v. Smith, the lower courts deemed the law to have a legitimate and rational government purpose and therefore upheld the enactment. The Supreme Court, however, held that the ordinances were neither neutral nor generally applicable: rather, they applied exclusively to the church. Because the law was targeted at Santería, the Court held, it was not subject to an undemanding rational basis test: rather, it had to be justified by a compelling governmental interest, and be narrowly tailored to advance that interest. Because the ordinance suppressed more religious conduct than was necessary to achieve its stated ends, it was deemed unconstitutional.

Mary often talks about tradition and culture, and how neither are reasonable justification for committing unethical acts. I’m paraphrasing her thoughts badly, but if you read her blog at all, you can probably clearly recall her posts taking issue with those particular words!

In this country, it seems, religion is an excuse for quite a bit. The salvation army, being a “christian” charity, is allowed to refuse to aid or employ people who are not heterosexual. The FLDS in Texas is trying to claim religious persecution for their adult male members being put on trial for their “marriages” and sexual relations with children as young as 12 and 13 years old.

Yet the practitioners of Santeria, in their defense of their rituals, make a really great point. They eat the animals after they kill them, and so they ask – how can they be wrong, when the billions of animals sacrificed for the taste buds and bellies of mainstream society are seen as okay?

And that is a really good question. Obviously I am opposed to both, but for the mainstream society meat-eaters who look at Santeria’s animal sacrifice with something akin to horror, how can they look at their own relationship to animals and not see the similarities to what they oppose in the Santeria ritual sacrifices?

6 responses to “rescued from religious rites

  1. Mary Martin June 2, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Thanks for the plug. It’s definitely a good question: What makes their actions so much more objectionable than any meat-eaters? One thing’s for certain: the animals aren’t “sacrificing” anything–they’re being brutally slaughtered for no good reason.

    I do work with organizations that house youth who have aged out of the foster care system, and we’re the only one in our region that serves unmarried young women with children, and we’re the only ones who serve youth and do not make any religious demands on them. It shocks me–these kids have enough problems as it is, and they can’t get services they need because they don’t have the right religious orientation? It’s embarrassing.

  2. Ron Kearns June 2, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    “And that is a really good question. Obviously I am opposed to both, but for the mainstream society meat-eaters who look at Santeria’s animal sacrifice with something akin to horror, how can they look at their own relationship to animals and not see the similarities to what they oppose in the Santeria ritual sacrifices?”

    I must agree. Thanksgiving is a somewhat “religious” ritual because there is a lot of prayin’ going on over all of those carved-up turkeys…

  3. Deb June 2, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Mary – I can’t see any difference between them. And god, thinking about the communion rituals during normal catholic masses? the whole thing about the body and blood of jesus? I know they don’t actually use blood NOW, but doesn’t it make you think they used to?

    I really admire what your organization does for those kids. I think that charity shouldn’t come with strings attached, and that has always bothered me about a lot of religion-based charities.

    Ron – good point about thanksgiving! It was one of three meals in the year when our family would say “grace” before dinner, and the other two were religious holidays. It definitely gets a religious overtone by things like that.

  4. Mary Martin June 2, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I never thought of Thanksgiving as religious. But it’s “tradition,” which is just as questionable for me. And 45 million (or is it 50) turkeys slaughtered for one American meal is disgraceful. Certainly nothing to celebrate.

  5. Kaiser February 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    aw, i remember arabelle’s first day out. me and asma’s sister were in charge of making sure she didn’t get into any trouble. from the first day it looked like she was trying to ruffle some feathers. and the other guineas didn’t want anything to do with her 😦 she’s a sweety.

    thanks for the pic! i took a picture of her on my iphone then and still have that as my wallpaper on the iphone.

    less about the supposed taboo of animal sacrifice in everyday life, i think it’s ironic that some religions that, despite being anti-pagan, do follow what would be considered pagan ritual. except that they try to give moral justification to the practice through a prettied up story.


  6. Deb February 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Kaiser, I have always wondered why the guineas didn’t want her around when she was a baby. They’ve never had a baby guinea before at the sanctuary, so it is something of a mystery. And you know how loud the guineas always are? One of the volunteers had been on a trip to Africa where guineas run wild, and she said that she never heard the guineas make any noise at all there! They might be a somewhat different species, of course, I don’t know that much about it, but I thought it was interesting!

    As for the anti-pagan religions, from what I’ve understood of their history, certain holidays were chosen and raised in significance because of their proximity to pagan holidays. Co-option was apparently a good marketing idea, even back then. I find it pretty ironic as well.

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