Xavier Cortada, “Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah,” acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 36″, 2004

Read artist’s statement

Chapter 9: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah

The Meaning of Free Exercise: Equality and Beyond

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


A purple cape. Cuts of goat meat ready to be cooked. Crutches and two dogs. Their meaning, as Xavier Cortada writes of his painting, is ambiguous. Perhaps the goat has been carved by an injured butcher for a nontraditional Christmas feast, but the symbolism also suggests that the goat may have been carved for Babalú-Ayé, one of the spiritual beings known as orishas among followers of Santería. In Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, the Supreme Court struck down a series of ordinances tailored to prohibit Santería animal sacrifice but few other killings. The ordinances were neither neutral nor generally applicable and failed to survive strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause. Lower courts and scholars disagree about Lukumi’s reach. Understood narrowly, Lukumi is about religious hostility; read broadly, it requires equal treatment of analogous religious and nonreligious conduct. A close look at Cortada’s painting suggests Lukumi might be even more protective.


“[For Pichardo,] the symbolism in Cortada’s painting reveals a religious reality that is true and beneficial. For other religious leaders in Hialeah, the religious meaning associated with animal sacrifice made the practice especially repugnant. For these opponents, the symbolism in Cortada’s painting points to harmful and false religious teaching.”


Kathleen A. Brady is Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. She holds a Master of Arts in Religion and J.D. from Yale University. She is the author of The Distinctiveness of Religion in American Law: Rethinking Religion Clause Jurisprudence (2015).


Xavier Cortada is Professor of Practice at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History. He grew up in Miami and holds degrees from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, School of Law, and Graduate School of Business. His work merges art with other disciplines, including law, science, and politics.