Monday's Supreme Court ruling allowing a Colorado baker to refuse making a wedding cake for a gay couple had its roots in a Hialeah case that involved the city, a church and animal sacrifices.
The 1993 landmark Hialeah case, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, stemmed from the city banning ritual animal killings after the the Hialeah-based church announced its intention to make these offerings in the name of Santeria.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the Hialeah ban. In the majority opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, he said “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
The Hialeah ordinances, he wrote, “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.”
Kennedy, in the Colorado ruling, put forth a similar legal argument, citing the Hialeah case.
“The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion in the Colorado baker case.
University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who successfully argued the Hialeah case, said the 1993 case is the most important case involving the Free Exercise Clause, which protects First Amendment rights, so he was not surprised the court cited it.
“Both in Hialeah and in Colorado, decision makers made negative, hostile statements about religion, and that’s mostly what the Court relied on,” Laycock said. “In both cases, similar secular things were treated differently. In Hialeah, you could kill animals for all sorts of secular reasons; in this case, bakers who didn’t want to make cakes opposing same-sex marriage were exempt, but bakers who refused to make cakes in support were not.”
While the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the baker, it is unclear how this will affect similar cases in the future. Kennedy pointed out that the record was complicated by anti-religious statements made by Colorado state officials. In cases without such statements on the record, the precedent has not been completely set.
This is not the first time the Hialeah church has come up in legal proceedings. Last year, three federal judges upheld a halt to President Donald Trump's "Muslim travel ban," citing the Supreme Court decision involving the Hialeah church.