SAN ANTONIO - Despite 11 people being arrested on charges of animal cruelty at a far West San Antonio home late Friday, case precedent shows their activities are likely legally protected.
The suspects, who were arrested after Bexar County Sheriff's Office deputies were called to a home in the 11400 block of Bronze Sand Road, face misdemeanor charges of cruelty to livestock animals.
Neighbors said they witnessed a woman dressed in white in a garage cutting up animal parts.
A BCSO spokeswoman said at one point witnesses saw a suspect holding up a chicken and draining its blood into some type of container.
A dead goat, roosters and chickens were among the animals found at the scene, BCSO officials said.
Multiple suspects charged in connection to the incident have confirmed to KSAT 12 that they were taking part in a Santeria ceremony.
The religion of Santeria started in Nigeria hundreds of years ago and was later influenced by other regions of the world as African families were broken up during slavery.
"You have to be initiated into that religion," said Eva, a card reader and self-described "witch for hire" who works at a botanica south of downtown.
"I mean they're not pets, but they're not mistreated or tortured prior to the sacrifice," said Eva, who has cast spells in the past on behalf of people who follow Santeria.
Proponents of the religion pointed to the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court as proof that the charges will likely be dismissed.
The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the freedom of religion and a 1993 ruling from the Supreme Court said rules that suppress the practice of animal sacrifice for the purposes of religion are invalid.
The case dealt specifically with a group in Florida practicing Santeria that had been prohibited from building a church where animals would be sacrificed.
Jadir Nuenos, president of the Asociacion Cultural Yoruba de Texas, said it remains common for followers of Santeria to face animal cruelty charges despite these religious protections.
"Especially in Texas, because people don't know or they just don't understand our religion," Nuenos said Monday through a translator.
When asked for an interview about the charges Monday, a BCSO spokeswoman said she was in the process of getting an update on the case.
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