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QUESTION: We have a tenant conducting Santeria ceremonies which include the sacrifices of goats, chickens and roosters. On trash days we have seen blood coming from trash bags running into the storm drains. What is the best way to stop these practices?

ANSWER: Santería means “Way of the Saints.” For those who are unfamiliar with Santería, it's a religion similar to voodoo. It originated in Cuba and combines elements of African paganism, Roman Catholicism and ritualistic animal sacrifice. Adherents worship Catholic saints and use Catholic symbols in their practices, including baptism. (I suspect the Catholic Church is troubled by the usurping of their symbols and practices into a pagan religion.) See Wikipedia and The BBC for more information.

Case Law. Although there are no cases involving Santeria and homeowner associations, there are two cases involving cities.

Church Building. In 1993 the City of Hialeah in Florida passed an ordinance to prevent the practice of Santería in the city. The ordinance prohibited the killing of animals in a public or private ritual not for the primary purpose of food consumption. The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye sued. Based on the First Amendment's free exercise of religion, the United States Supreme Court declared the ordinance unconstitutional and the church was allowed to conduct animal sacrifices in its church building. (Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah.)

Private Residence. In 2009 the City of Euless, Texas passed an ordinance aimed at stopping the practice of Santería in a residence by prohibiting the torture and killing of animals in residential homes. The Court of Appeals ruled that Merced, a Santería priest, was acting within his Constitutional rights when he sacrificed goats and other animals as part of his home-based rituals. The court noted that home sacrifice is "a crucial aspect of Santería, without which Santería would effectively cease to exist.” (José Merced v. City of Euless.)

Homeowners Associations. The cases described above both involved governmental interference with the free exercise of religion. In each case the court found that the object of the laws was to to suppress religiously motivated conduct which is why the courts struck them down. Neither case addressed private restrictions, such as those imposed by homeowners associations. Accordingly, it is possible that CC&R restrictions against any (not just religious) activity that causes a nuisance could withstand legal challenge. Just as private organizations can restrict free speech, they could conceivably restrict religious practices that negatively impact other members (see Bible studies).

RECOMMENDATION: Because this is uncharted territory, boards should consult legal counsel when faced with these kinds of situations. Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

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