Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye
The Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye is a public center in
the greater Miami, Florida, metropolitan area of what is generally
a secretive religious community, Santeria. In the years
since the Cuban Revolution (1959), a large expatriate community
has emerged in southern Florida among whom Santeria is
a significant religion. Santeria is often associated with voudou
and other African-based religions that were brought with the
slaves in the nineteenth century. It is based on the worship of
the deities called orishas. It is a magical religion in which the
practice of spells for healing, love, and improvement of life are
common. Worship is centered upon the acknowledgment of
the presence of the deities who are often seen to possess the
priest or priestess or members of the group. Santeria took on
much of its secretive quality under the pressure of a dominant
Christian culture that attempted to suppress it.
In the relatively free atmosphere of Miami, Ernesto Pichardo,
his brother Fernando Pichardo, and Paul Rodriguez (now
deceased) founded the church at the beginning of the 1970s.
Leading the church was Iyolusha Carmen Plá Oni Yemay, who
had been ordained to the priesthood in 1970 by Apetebi Orunmla
Ramona Ojeda. The church was incorporated in 1974. It
operated quietly, though Ernesto Pichardo taught a class on
the religion at the Miami-Dade Community College. However,
in the mid-1980s, the group decided to purchase a building in
suburban Hialeah and begin holding public services. The action
focused some attention on the church and on a particular
aspect of Santeria that brought the most offense to the larger
community, the practice of animal sacrifice.
A short time after the opening of the church, the city of Hialeah
passed a series of ordinances that attempted to outlaw animal
sacrifice. The city defended its actions on the grounds that
it wanted to prevent animal cruelty, the spread of disease, and
the traumatization of children (though none of these had been
a problem reported within the Santeria community). The
church decided to fight the case, which landed on the docket
of the Supreme Court in 1993. The Hialeah ordinances were
struck down.
The church is located at 3720 SW 108th St., Hialeah, FL
33165. Website
Resnick, Rosalind. ‘‘To One City, It’s Cruelty. To Cultists,
It’s Religion.’’ National Law Journal (September 11, 1989).

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