Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993)
508 U.S. 520, 113 S. Ct. 2217, 124 L. Ed. 2d 472
Argued: November 4, 1992 Decided: June 11, 1993
KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, SCALIA, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, the opinion of the Court with respect to Part II-B, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, SCALIA, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts II-A-1 and II-A-3, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, SCALIA, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part II-A-2, in which STEVENS, J., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post p. 557. SOUTER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post p. 559. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 577.
JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part II-A-2.Fn
The principle that government may not enact laws that suppress religious belief or practice is so well understood that few violations are recorded in our opinions. Cf. McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978); Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67 (1953). Concerned that this [fundamental non-persecution principle] of the First Amendment was implicated here,] however, we granted certiorari. 503 U.S. 935 (1992). [508 U.S. 520, 524]
Our review confirms that the laws in question were enacted by officials who did not understand, failed to perceive, or chose to ignore the fact that their official actions violated the Nation's essential commitment to religious freedom. The challenged laws had an impermissible object; and in all events, the principle of general applicability was violated because the secular ends asserted in defense of the laws were pursued only with respect to conduct motivated by religious beliefs. We invalidate the challenged enactments, and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
This case involves practices of the Santeria religion, which originated in the 19th century. When hundreds of thousands of members of the Yoruba people were brought as slaves from western Africa to Cuba, their traditional African religion absorbed significant elements of Roman Catholicism. The resulting syncretion, or fusion, is Santeria, "the way of the saints." The Cuban Yoruba express their devotion to spirits, called orishas, through the iconography of Catholic saints, Catholic symbols are often present at Santeria rites, and Santeria devotees attend the Catholic sacraments. 723 F.Supp. 1467, 1469-1470 (SD Fla. 1989); 13 Encyclopedia of Religion 66 (M. Eliade ed. 1987); 1 Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience 183 (C. Lippy & P. Williams eds. 1988).
The Santeria faith teaches that every individual has a destiny from God, a destiny fulfilled with the aid and energy of the orishas. The basis of the Santeria religion is the nurture of a personal relation with the orishas, and one of the principal forms of devotion is an animal sacrifice. 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 66. The sacrifice of animals as part of religious rituals has ancient roots. See generally 12 id., at 554-556. Animal sacrifice is mentioned throughout the Old Testament, see 14 Encyclopaedia Judaica 600, 600-605 [508 U.S. 520, 525] (1971), and it played an important role in the practice of Judaism before destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, see id., at 605-612. In modern Islam, there is an annual sacrifice commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in the stead of his son. See C. Glasse, Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 178 (1989); 7 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 456.
According to Santeria teaching, the orishas are powerful, but not immortal. They depend for survival on the sacrifice. Sacrifices are performed at birth, marriage, and death rites, for the cure of the sick, for the initiation of new members and priests, and during an annual celebration. Animals sacrificed in Santeria rituals include chickens, pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles. The animals are killed by the cutting of the carotid arteries in the neck. The sacrificed animal is cooked and eaten, except after healing and death rituals. See 723 F.Supp., at 1471-1472; 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 66; M. Gonzalez-Wippler, The Santeria Experience 105 (1982).
Santeria adherents faced widespread persecution in Cuba, so the religion and its rituals were practiced in secret. The open practice of Santeria and its rites remains infrequent. See 723 F.Supp., at 1470; 13 Encyclopedia of Religion, supra, at 67; M. Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria: The Religion 3-4 (1989). The religion was brought to this Nation most often by exiles from the Cuban revolution. The District Court estimated that there are at least 50,000 practitioners in South Florida today. See 723 F.Supp., at 1470.
Petitioner Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. (Church), is a not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law in 1973. The Church and its congregants practice the Santeria religion. The president of the Church is petitioner Ernesto Pichardo, who is also the Church's priest and holds the religious title of Italero, the second highest in the Santeria faith. In April, 1987, the Church leased [508 U.S. 520, 526] land in the city of Hialeah, Florida, and announced plans to establish a house of worship as well as a school, cultural center, and museum. Pichardo indicated that the Church's goal was to bring the practice of the Santeria faith, including its ritual of animal sacrifice, into the open. The Church began the process of obtaining utility service and receiving the necessary licensing, inspection, and zoning approvals. Although the Church's efforts at obtaining the necessary licenses and permits were far from smooth, see 723 F.Supp., at 1477-1478, it appears that it received all needed approvals by early August, 1987.
The prospect of a Santeria church in their midst was distressing to many members of the Hialeah community, and the announcement of the plans to open a Santeria church in Hialeah prompted the city council to hold an emergency public session on June 9, 1987. The resolutions and ordinances passed at that and later meetings are set forth in the Appendix following this opinion.
A summary suffices here, beginning with the enactments passed at the June 9 meeting. First, the city council adopted Resolution 87-66, which noted the "concern" expressed by residents of the city "that certain religions may propose to engage in practices which are inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety," and declared that "[t]he City reiterates its commitment to a prohibition against any and all acts of any and all religious groups which are inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety." Next, the council approved an emergency ordinance, Ordinance 87-40, which incorporated in full, except as to penalty, Florida's animal cruelty laws. Fla.Stat. ch. 828 (1987). Among other things, the incorporated state law subjected to criminal punishment "[w]hoever . . . unnecessarily or cruelly . . . kills any animal." 828.12.
The city council desired to undertake further legislative action, but Florida law prohibited a municipality from enacting legislation relating to animal cruelty that conflicted with [508 U.S. 520, 527] state law. 828.27(4). To obtain clarification, Hialeah's city attorney requested an opinion from the attorney general of Florida as to whether 828.12 prohibited "a religious group from sacrificing an animal in a religious ritual or practice," and whether the city could enact ordinances "making religious animal sacrifice unlawful." The attorney general responded in mid-July. He concluded that the "ritual sacrifice of animals for purposes other than food consumption" was not a "necessary" killing, and so was prohibited by 828.12. Fla.Op.Atty.Gen. 87-56, Annual Report of the Atty.Gen. 146, 147, 149 (1988). The attorney general appeared to define "unnecessary" as "done without any useful motive, in a spirit of wanton cruelty or for the mere pleasure of destruction without being in any sense beneficial or useful to the person killing the animal." Id., at 149, n. 11. He advised that religious animal sacrifice was against state law, so that a city ordinance prohibiting it would not be in conflict. Id., at 151.
The city council responded at first with a hortatory enactment, Resolution 87-90, that noted its residents' "great concern regarding the possibility of public ritualistic animal sacrifices" and the state-law prohibition. The resolution declared the city policy "to oppose the ritual sacrifices of animals" within Hialeah, and announced that any person or organization practicing animal sacrifice "will be prosecuted."
In September, 1987, the city council adopted three substantive ordinances addressing the issue of religious animal sacrifice. Ordinance 87-52 defined "sacrifice" as "to unnecessarily kill, torment, torture, or mutilate an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption," and prohibited owning or possessing an animal "intending to use such animal for food purposes." It restricted application of this prohibition, however, to any individual or group that "kills, slaughters or sacrifices animals for any type of ritual, regardless of whether or not the flesh or blood of the animal is to be consumed." The ordinance [508 U.S. 520, 528] contained an exemption for slaughtering by "licensed establishment[s]" of animals "specifically raised for food purposes." Declaring, moreover, that the city council has determined that the sacrificing of animals within the city limits is contrary to the public health, safety, welfare and morals of the community," the city council adopted Ordinance 87-71. That ordinance defined sacrifice as had Ordinance 87-52, and then provided that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person, persons, corporations or associations to sacrifice any animal within the corporate limits of the City of Hialeah, Florida." The final Ordinance, 87-72, defined "slaughter" as "the killing of animals for food," and prohibited slaughter outside of areas zoned for slaughterhouse use. The ordinance provided an exemption, however, for the slaughter or processing for sale of "small numbers of hogs and/or cattle per week in accordance with an exemption provided by state law." All ordinances and resolutions passed the city council by unanimous vote. Violations of each of the four ordinances were punishable by fines not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 60 days, or both.
Following enactment of these ordinances, the Church and Pichardo filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Named as defendants were the city of Hialeah and its mayor and members of its city council in their individual capacities. Alleging violations of petitioners' rights under, inter alia, the Free Exercise Clause, the complaint sought a declaratory judgment and injunctive and monetary relief. The District Court granted summary judgment to the individual defendants, finding that they had absolute immunity for their legislative acts and that the ordinances and resolutions adopted by the council did not constitute an official policy of harassment, as alleged by petitioners. 688 F.Supp. 1522 (SD Fla. 1988).
After a 9-day bench trial on the remaining claims, the District Court ruled for the city, finding no violation of [508 U.S. 520, 529] petitioners' rights under the Free Exercise Clause. 723 F.Supp. 1467 (SD Fla. 1989). (The court rejected as well petitioners' other claims, which are not at issue here.) Although acknowledging that "the ordinances are not religiously neutral," id., at 1476, and that the city's concern about animal sacrifice was "prompted" by the establishment of the Church in the city, id., at 1479, the District Court concluded that the purpose of the ordinances was not to exclude the Church from the city, but to end the practice of animal sacrifice, for whatever reason practiced, id., at 1479, 1483. The court also found that the ordinances did not target religious conduct "on their face," though it noted that, in any event, "specifically regulating [religious] conduct" does not violate the First Amendment "when [the conduct] is deemed inconsistent with public health and welfare." Id., at 1483-1484. Thus, the court concluded that, at most, the ordinances' effect on petitioners' religious conduct was "incidental to [their] secular purpose and effect." Id., at 1484.
The District Court proceeded to determine whether the governmental interests underlying the ordinances were compelling and, if so, to balance the "governmental and religious interests." The court noted that "[t]his "balance depends upon the cost to the government of altering its activity to allow the religious practice to continue unimpeded versus the cost to the religious interest imposed by the government activity." Ibid., quoting Grosz v. City of Miami Beach, 721 F.2d 729, 734 (CA 11 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 827 (1984). The court found four compelling interests. First, the court found that animal sacrifices present a substantial health risk, both to participants and the general public. According to the court, animals that are to be sacrificed are often kept in unsanitary conditions and are uninspected, and animal remains are found in public places. 723 F.Supp., at 1474-1475, 1485. Second, the court found emotional injury to children who witness the sacrifice of animals. Id., at 1475-1476, 1485-1486. Third, the court found compelling [508 U.S. 520, 530] the city's interest in protecting animals from cruel and unnecessary killing. The court determined that the method of killing used in Santeria sacrifice was "unreliable and not humane, and that the animals, before being sacrificed, are often kept in conditions that produce a great deal of fear and stress in the animal." Id., at 1472-1473, 1486. Fourth, the District Court found compelling the city's interest in restricting the slaughter or sacrifice of animals to areas zoned for slaughterhouse use. Id., at 1486. This legal determination was not accompanied by factual findings.
Balancing the competing governmental and religious interests, the District Court concluded the compelling governmental interests "fully justify the absolute prohibition on ritual sacrifice" accomplished by the ordinances. Id., at 1487. The court also concluded that an exception to the sacrifice prohibition for religious conduct would "`unduly interfere with fulfillment of the governmental interest'" because any more narrow restrictions - e.g., regulation of disposal of animal carcasses - would be unenforceable as a result of the secret nature of the Santeria religion. Id., at 1486-1487, and nn. 57-59. A religious exemption from the city's ordinances, concluded the court, would defeat the city's compelling interests in enforcing the prohibition. Id., at 1487.
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in a one-paragraph per curiam opinion. Judgt. order reported at 936 F.2d 586 (1991). Choosing not to rely on the District Court's recitation of a compelling interest in promoting the welfare of children, the Court of Appeals stated simply that it concluded the ordinances were consistent with the Constitution. App. to Pet. for Cert. A2. It declined to address the effect of Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), decided after the District Court's opinion, because the District Court "employed an arguably stricter standard" than that applied in Smith. App. to Pet. for Cert. A2, n. 1. [508 U.S. 520, 531]
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which has been applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940), provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . ." (Emphasis added.) The city does not argue that Santeria is not a "religion" within the meaning of the First Amendment. Nor could it. Although the practice of animal sacrifice may seem abhorrent to some, "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection." Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707, 714 (1981). Given the historical association between animal sacrifice and religious worship, see supra, at 2, petitioners' assertion that animal sacrifice is an integral part of their religion "cannot be deemed bizarre or incredible." Frazee v. Illinois Dept. of Employment Security, 489 U.S. 829, 834 , n. 2 (1989). Neither the city nor the courts below, moreover, have questioned the sincerity of petitioners' professed desire to conduct animal sacrifices for religious reasons. We must consider petitioners' First Amendment claim.
In addressing the constitutional protection for free exercise of religion, our cases establish the general proposition that [a law that is neutral and of general applicability need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if the law has the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice.] Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, supra. Neutrality and general applicability are [interrelated], and, as becomes apparent in this case, failure to satisfy one requirement is a likely indication that the other has not been satisfied. A law failing to satisfy these requirements must be justified by a compelling governmental interest, and must be narrowly tailored to [508 U.S. 520, 532] advance that interest. These ordinances [fail to satisfy the Smith requirements.] We begin by discussing neutrality.
In our Establishment Clause cases, we have often stated the principle that the First Amendment forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion or of religion in general. See, e.g., Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 248 (1990) (plurality opinion); School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U.S. 373, 389 (1985); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 56 (1985); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106 -107 (1968); School Dist. of Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225 (1963); Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U.S. 1, 15 -16 (1947). These cases, however, for the most part, have addressed governmental efforts to benefit religion or particular religions, and so have dealt with a question different, at least in its formulation and emphasis, from the issue here. Petitioners allege an attempt to disfavor their religion because of the religious ceremonies it commands, and the Free Exercise Clause is dispositive in our analysis.
[At a minimum, the protections of the Free Exercise Clause pertain if the law at issue discriminates against some or all religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.] See, e.g., Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 607 (1961) (plurality opinion); Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67, 69 -70 (1953). Indeed, it was ["historical instances of religious persecution and intolerance that gave concern to those who drafted the Free Exercise Clause."] Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 703 (1986) (opinion of Burger, C.J.). See J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 991-992 (abridged ed. 1833) (reprint 1987); T. Cooley, Constitutional Limitations 467 (1868) (reprint 1972); McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 464 , and n. 2 (1961) (opinion of Frankfurter, J.); Douglas v. Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 179 (1943) (Jackson, J., concurring in result); [508 U.S. 520, 533] Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333, 342 (1890). These principles, though not often at issue in our Free Exercise Clause cases, have played a role in some. In McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978), for example, we invalidated a state law that disqualified members of the clergy from holding certain public offices, because it "impose[d] special disabilities on the basis of . . . religious status," Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S., at 877 . On the same principle, in Fowler v. Rhode Island, supra, we found that a municipal ordinance was applied in an unconstitutional manner when interpreted to prohibit preaching in a public park by a Jehovah's Witness, but to permit preaching during the course of a Catholic mass or Protestant church service. See also Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 272 -273 (1951). Cf. Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982) (state statute that treated some religious denominations more favorably than others violated the Establishment Clause).
Although a law targeting religious beliefs as such is never permissible, McDaniel v. Paty, supra, at 626 (plurality opinion); Cantwell v. Connecticut, supra, at 303-304, if the object of a law is to infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation, the law is not neutral, see Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, supra, at 878-879, and it is invalid unless it is justified by a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to advance that interest. There are, of course, many ways of demonstrating that the object or purpose of a law is the suppression of religion or religious conduct. To determine the object of a law, we must begin with its text, for the minimum requirement of neutrality is that a law not discriminate on its face. A law lacks facial neutrality if it refers to a religious practice without a secular meaning discernable from the language or context. Petitioners contend that three of the ordinances fail this test of facial neutrality because they use the words [508 U.S. 520, 534] "sacrifice" and "ritual," words with strong religious connotations. Brief for Petitioners 16-17. We agree that these words are consistent with the claim of facial discrimination, but the argument is not conclusive. The words "sacrifice" and "ritual" have a religious origin, but current use admits also of secular meanings. See Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1961, 1996 (1971). See also 12 Encyclopedia of Religion, at 556 ("[T]he word sacrifice ultimately became very much a secular term in common usage"). The ordinances, furthermore, define "sacrifice" in secular terms, without referring to religious practices.
We reject the contention advanced by the city, see Brief for Respondent 15, that our inquiry must end with the text of the laws at issue. Facial neutrality is not determinative. The Free Exercise Clause, like the Establishment Clause, extends beyond facial discrimination. The Clause "forbids subtle departures from neutrality," Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437, 452 (1971), and "covert suppression of particular religious beliefs," Bowen v. Roy, supra, at 703 (opinion of Burger, C.J.). Official action that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the requirement of facial neutrality. The Free Exercise Clause protects against governmental hostility which is masked as well as overt. "The Court must survey meticulously the circumstances of governmental categories to eliminate, as it were, religious gerrymanders." Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U.S. 664, 696 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring).
The record in this case compels the conclusion that suppression of the central element of the Santeria worship service was the object of the ordinances. First, though use of the words "sacrifice" and "ritual" does not compel a finding of improper targeting of the Santeria religion, the choice of these words is support for our conclusion. There are further respects in which the text of the city council's enactments discloses the improper attempt to target Santeria. [508 U.S. 520, 535] Resolution 87-66, adopted June 9, 1987, recited that "residents and citizens of the City of Hialeah have expressed their concern that certain religions may propose to engage in practices which are inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety," and "reiterate[d]" the city's commitment to prohibit "any and all [such] acts of any and all religious groups." No one suggests, and, on this record, it cannot be maintained, that city officials had in mind a religion other than Santeria.
It becomes evident that these ordinances target Santeria sacrifice when the ordinances' operation is considered. Apart from the text, the effect of a law in its real operation is strong evidence of its object. To be sure, adverse impact will not always lead to a finding of impermissible targeting. For example, a social harm may have been a legitimate concern of government for reasons quite apart from discrimination. McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S., at 442 . See, e.g., Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879); Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890). See also Ely, “Legislative and Administrative Motivation in Constitutional Law,” 79 Yale L.J. 1205, 1319 (1970). The subject at hand does implicate, of course, multiple concerns unrelated to religious animosity, for example, the suffering or mistreatment visited upon the sacrificed animals and health hazards from improper disposal. But the ordinances, when considered together, disclose an object remote from these legitimate concerns. The design of these laws accomplishes, instead, a "religious gerrymander," Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 696 (Harlan, J., concurring), an impermissible attempt to target petitioners and their religious practices.
It is a necessary conclusion that almost the only conduct subject to Ordinances 87-40, 87-52, and 87-71 is the religious exercise of Santeria church members. The texts show that they were drafted in tandem to achieve this result. We begin with Ordinance 87-71. It prohibits the sacrifice of animals, but defines sacrifice as "to unnecessarily kill . . . an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the [508 U.S. 520, 536] primary purpose of food consumption." The definition excludes almost all killings of animals except for religious sacrifice, and the primary purpose requirement narrows the proscribed category even further, in particular by exempting kosher slaughter, see 723 F.Supp., at 1480. We need not discuss whether this differential treatment of two religions is, itself, an independent constitutional violation. Cf. Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S., at 244 -246. It suffices to recite this feature of the law as support for our conclusion that Santeria alone was the exclusive legislative concern. The net result of the gerrymander is that few, if any, killings of animals are prohibited other than Santeria sacrifice, which is proscribed because it occurs during a ritual or ceremony and its primary purpose is to make an offering to the orishas, not food consumption. Indeed, careful drafting ensured that, although Santeria sacrifice is prohibited, killings that are no more necessary or humane in almost all other circumstances are unpunished.
Operating in similar fashion is Ordinance 87-52, which prohibits the "possess[ion], sacrifice, or slaughter" of an animal with the "inten[t] to use such animal for food purposes." This prohibition, extending to the keeping of an animal, as well as the killing itself, applies if the animal is killed in "any type of ritual" and there is an intent to use the animal for food, whether or not it is in fact consumed for food. The ordinance exempts, however, "any licensed [food] establishment" with regard to "any animals which are specifically raised for food purposes," if the activity is permitted by zoning and other laws. This exception, too, seems intended to cover Kosher slaughter. Again, the burden of the ordinance, in practical terms, falls on Santeria adherents, but almost no others: if the killing is - unlike most Santeria sacrifices - unaccompanied by the intent to use the animal for food, then it is not prohibited by Ordinance 87-52; if the killing is specifically for food, but does not occur during the course of "any type of ritual," it again falls outside the prohibition; and [508 U.S. 520, 537] if the killing is for food and occurs during the course of a ritual, it is still exempted if it occurs in a properly zoned and licensed establishment and involves animals "specifically raised for food purposes." A pattern of exemptions parallels the pattern of narrow prohibitions. Each contributes to the gerrymander.
1. Ordinance 87-40 incorporates the Florida animal cruelty statute, Fla.Stat. 828.12 (1987). Its prohibition is broad on its face, punishing "[w]hoever . . . unnecessarily . . . kills any animal." The city claims that this ordinance is the epitome of a neutral prohibition. Brief for Respondent 13-14. The problem, however, is the interpretation given to the ordinance by respondent and the Florida attorney general. Killings for religious reasons are deemed unnecessary, whereas most other killings fall outside the prohibition. The city, on what seems to be a per se basis, deems hunting, slaughter of animals for food, eradication of insects and pests, and euthanasia as necessary. See id., at 22. There is no indication in the record that respondent has concluded that hunting or fishing for sport is unnecessary. Indeed, one of the few reported Florida cases decided under 828.12 concludes that the use of live rabbits to train greyhounds is not unnecessary. See Kiper v. State, 310 So.2d 42 (Fla. App.), cert. denied, 328 So.2d 845 (Fla. 1975). Further, because it requires an evaluation of the particular justification for the killing, this ordinance represents a system of "individualized governmental assessment of the reasons for the relevant conduct," Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S., at 884 . As we noted in Smith, in circumstances in which individualized exemptions from a general requirement are available, the government "may not refuse to extend that system to cases of `religious hardship' without compelling reason." ibid. quoting Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S., at 708 (opinion of Burger, C.J.). Respondent's application of the ordinance's test of necessity devalues religious reasons for killing by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious [508 U.S. 520, 538] reasons. Thus, religious practice is being singled out for discriminatory treatment. Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S., at 722 , and n. 17 (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and concurring in result), id., at 708 (opinion of Burger, C.J.); United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 264 , n. 3 (1982) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment).
We also find significant evidence of the ordinances' improper targeting of Santeria sacrifice in the fact that they proscribe more religious conduct than is necessary to achieve their stated ends. It is not unreasonable to infer, at least when there are no persuasive indications to the contrary, that a law which visits "gratuitous restrictions" on religious conduct, McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S., at 520 (opinion of Frankfurter, J.), seeks not to effectuate the stated governmental interests, but to suppress the conduct because of its religious motivation.
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.] * If improper disposal, not the sacrifice itself, is the harm to be prevented, the city could have imposed a general regulation on the disposal of organic garbage. It did not do so. Indeed, counsel for the city conceded at oral argument that, under the ordinances, Santeria sacrifices would be illegal even if they occurred in licensed, inspected, and zoned slaughterhouses. Tr. of Oral Arg. 45. See also id., at 42, 48. Thus, these broad ordinances prohibit Santeria sacrifice even when it does not threaten the city's [508 U.S. 520, 539] interest in the public health. The District Court accepted the argument that narrower regulation would be unenforceable because of the secrecy in the Santeria rituals and the lack of any central religious authority to require compliance with secular disposal regulations. See 723 F.Supp., at 1486-1487, and nn. 58-59. It is difficult to understand, however, how a prohibition of the sacrifices themselves, which occur in private, is enforceable if a ban on improper disposal, which occurs in public, is not. The neutrality of a law is suspect if First Amendment freedoms are curtailed to prevent isolated collateral harms not themselves prohibited by direct regulation. See, e.g., Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 162 (1939).
Under similar analysis, narrower regulation would achieve the city's interest in preventing cruelty to animals. With regard to the city's interest in ensuring the adequate care of animals, regulation of conditions and treatment, regardless of why an animal is kept, is the logical response to the city's concern, not a prohibition on possession for the purpose of sacrifice. The same is true for the city's interest in prohibiting cruel methods of killing. Under federal and Florida law and Ordinance 87-40, which incorporates Florida law in this regard, killing an animal by the "simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument" - the method used in kosher slaughter - is approved as humane. See 7 U.S.C. 1902(b); Fla.Stat. 828.23(7)(b) (1991); Ordinance 87-40, 1. The District Court found that, though Santeria sacrifice also results in severance of the carotid arteries, the method used during sacrifice is less reliable, and therefore not humane. See 723 F.Supp., at 1472-1473. If the city has a real concern that other methods are less humane, however, the subject of the regulation should be the method of slaughter itself, not a religious classification that is said to bear some general relation to it.
Ordinance 87-72 - unlike the three other ordinances - does appear to apply to substantial nonreligious conduct, and [508 U.S. 520, 540] not to be overbroad. For our purposes here, however, the four substantive ordinances may be treated as a group for neutrality purposes. Ordinance 87-72 was passed the same day as Ordinance 87-71, and was enacted, as were the three others, in direct response to the opening of the Church. It would be implausible to suggest that the three other ordinances, but not Ordinance 87-72, had as their object the suppression of religion. We need not decide whether the Ordinance 87-72 could survive constitutional scrutiny if it existed separately; it must be invalidated because it functions, with the rest of the enactments in question, to suppress Santeria religious worship.
In determining if the object of a law is a neutral one under the Free Exercise Clause, we can also find guidance in our equal protection cases. As Justice Harlan noted in the related context of the Establishment Clause, "[n]eutrality in its application requires an equal protection mode of analysis." Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U.S., at 696 (concurring opinion). Here, as in equal protection cases, we may determine the city council's object from both direct and circumstantial evidence. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266 (1977). Relevant evidence includes, among other things, the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decision-making body. Id., at 267-268. These objective factors bear on the question of discriminatory object. Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279 , n. 24 (1979).
That the ordinances were enacted "`because of,' not merely `in spite of,'" their suppression of Santeria religious practice, id., at 279, is revealed by the events preceding enactment thier. Although respondent claimed at oral argument [508 U.S. 520, 541] that it had experienced significant problems resulting from the sacrifice of animals within the city before the announced opening of the Church, Tr. of Oral Arg. 27, 46, the city council made no attempt to address the supposed problem before its meeting in June, 1987, just weeks after the Church announced plans to open. The minutes and taped excerpts of the June 9 session, both of which are in the record, evidence significant hostility exhibited by residents, members of the city council, and other city officials toward the Santeria religion and its practice of animal sacrifice. The public crowd that attended the June 9 meetings interrupted statements by council members critical of Santeria with cheers and the brief comments of Pichardo with taunts. When Councilman Martinez, a supporter of the ordinances, stated that, in pre-revolution Cuba, "people were put in jail for practicing this religion," the audience applauded. Taped excerpts of Hialeah City Council Meeting, June 9, 1987.
Other statements by members of the city council were in a similar vein. For example, Councilman Martinez, after noting his belief that Santeria was outlawed in Cuba, questioned: "If we could not practice this [religion] in our homeland [Cuba], why bring it to this country?" Councilman Cardoso said that Santeria devotees at the Church "are in violation of everything this country stands for." Councilman Mejides indicated that he was "totally against the sacrificing of animals," and distinguished kosher slaughter because it had a "real purpose." The "Bible says we are allowed to sacrifice an animal for consumption," he continued, "but for any other purposes, I don't believe that the Bible allows that." The president of the city council, Councilman Echevarria, asked: "What can we do to prevent the Church from opening?"
Various Hialeah city officials made comparable comments. The chaplain of the Hialeah Police Department told the city council that Santeria was a sin, "foolishness," "an abomination to the Lord," and the worship of "demons." He advised [508 U.S. 520, 542] the city council: "We need to be helping people and sharing with them the truth that is found in Jesus Christ." He concluded: "I would exhort you . . . not to permit this Church to exist." The city attorney commented that Resolution 87-66 indicated: "This community will not tolerate religious practices which are abhorrent to its citizens. . . ." ibid. Similar comments were made by the deputy city attorney. This history discloses the object of the ordinances to target animal sacrifice by Santeria worshippers because of its religious motivation.
In sum, the neutrality inquiry leads to one conclusion: the ordinances had as their object the suppression of religion. The pattern we have recited discloses animosity to Santeria adherents and their religious practices; the ordinances, by their own terms, target this religious exercise; the texts of the ordinances were gerrymandered with care to proscribe religious killings of animals but to exclude almost all secular killings; and the ordinances suppress much more religious conduct than is necessary in order to achieve the legitimate ends asserted in their defense. These ordinances are not neutral, and the court below committed clear error in failing to reach this conclusion.
We turn next to a second requirement of the Free Exercise Clause, the rule that laws burdening religious practice must be of general applicability. . . .
[A law burdening religious practice that is not neutral or not of general application must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny.] To satisfy the commands of the First Amendment, a law restrictive of religious practice must advance "`interests of the highest order,'" and must be narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests. McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S., at 628 , quoting Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215 (1972). The compelling interest standard that we apply once a law fails to meet the Smith requirements is not "water[ed] . . . down" but "really means what it says." Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S., at 888. A law that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment or advances legitimate governmental interests only against conduct with a religious motivation will survive strict scrutiny only in rare cases. It follows from what we have already said that these ordinances cannot withstand this scrutiny. . . .
Separate opinions of Justices Scalia and Souter, concurring in part and concurring in the judgement, and Blackmun, concurring in the judgment, are omitted.
All footnotes omitted.