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Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (91-948), 508 U.S. 520 (1993).
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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


No. 91-948


CHURCH OF THE LUKUMI BABALU AYE, INC. and ERNESTO PICHARDO, PETITIONERS v.

CITY OF HIALEAH on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

[June 11, 1993]

Justice Blackmun , with whom Justice O'Connor When the State enacts legislation that intentionally or unintentionally places a burden upon religiously motivated practice, it must justify that burden by "showing that it is the least restrictive means of achieving some compelling state interest." Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981). See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215 (1972). A State may no more create an underinclusive statute, one that fails truly to promote its purported compelling interest, than it may create an overinclusive statute, one that encompasses more protected conduct than necessary to achieve its goal. In the latter circumstance, the broad scope of the statute is unnecessary to serve the interest, and the statute fails for that reason. In the former situation, the fact that allegedly harmful conduct falls outside the statute's scope belies a governmental assertion that it has genuinely pursued an interest "of the highest order." Ibid. If the State's goal is important enough to prohibit religiously motivated activity, it will not and must not stop at religiously motivated activity. Cf. Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 390 (1978) (invalidating certain restrictions on marriage as "grossly underinclusive with respect to [their] purpose"); Supreme Court of New Hampshire v. Piper, 470 U.S. 274, 285, n. 19 (1985) (a rule excluding nonresidents from the bar of New Hampshire "is underinclusive . . . because it permits lawyers who move away from the State to retain their membership in the bar").

In this case, the ordinances at issue are both overinclusive and underinclusive in relation to the state interests they purportedly serve. They are overinclusive, as the majority correctly explains, because the "legitimate governmental interests in protecting the public health and preventing cruelty to animals could be addressed by restrictions stopping far short of a flat prohibition of all Santeria sacrificial practice." Ante, at 16. They are underinclusive as well, because "[d]espite the city's proffered interest in preventing cruelty to animals, the ordinances are drafted with care to forbid few killings but those occasioned by religious sacrifice." Ante, at 22. Moreover, the "ordinances are also underinclusive with regard to the city's interest in public health . . . ." Ante, at 23.

When a law discriminates against religion as such, as do the ordinances in this case, it automatically will fail strict scrutiny under Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402-403, 407 (1963) (holding that governmental regulation that imposes a burden upon religious practice must be narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest). This is true because a law that targets religious practice for disfavored treatment both burdens the free exercise of religion and, by definition, is not precisely tailored to a compelling governmental interest.

Thus, unlike the majority, I do not believe that "[a] law burdening religious practice that is not neutral or not of general application must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny." Ante, at 24. In my view, regulation that targets religion in this way, ipso facto, fails strict scrutiny. It is for this reason that a statute that explicitly restricts religious practices violates the First Amendment. Otherwise, however, "[t]he First Amendment . . . does not distinguish between laws that are generally applicable and laws that target particular religious practices." Smith, 494 U. S., at 894 (opinion concurring in judgment).

It is only in the rare case that a state or local legislature will enact a law directly burdening religious practice as such. See ibid. Because the respondent here does single out religion in this way, the present case is an easy one to decide.

A harder case would be presented if petitioners were requesting an exemption from a generally applicable anticruelty law. The result in the case before the Court today, and the fact that every Member of the Court concurs in that result, does not necessarily reflect this Court's views of the strength of a State's interest in prohibiting cruelty to animals. This case does not present, and I therefore decline to reach, the question whether the Free Exercise Clause would require a religious exemption from a law that sincerely pursued the goal of protecting animals from cruel treatment. The number of organizations that have filed amicus briefs on behalf of this interest, [n.*] however, demonstrates that it is not a concern to be treated lightly.


Notes

*

See Brief for Washington Humane Society in support of Respondent; Brief for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, and Foundation for Animal Rights Advocacy in support of Respondent; Brief for Humane Society of the United States, American Humane Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Inc., and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in support of Respondent; Brief for International Society for Animal Rights, Citizens for Animals, Farm Animal Reform Movement, In Defense of Animals, Performing Animal Welfare Society, and Student Action Corps for Animals in support of Respondent; and Brief for Institute for Animal Rights Law, American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research, Farm Sanctuary, Jews for Animal Rights, United Animal Nations, and United Poultry Concerns, in support of Respondent.