BY: DICKERSON, A.J. ; Associated Press Writer DATELINE: HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) June 10, 1987 A

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BY: DICKERSON, A.J. ; Associated Press Writer DATELINE: HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) June 10, 1987 A furiouscrowd booed, hissed and jeered city attorneys who told City Council it could not legally stop a religion that sacrifices animals from opening its first public church in Florida. "They, the same as any other religious group, have the right," Richard Gross, assistant city lawyer, said at Tuesday's public hearing to consider Santeria priest Ernesto Pichardo's efforts to set up a church. "We don't want it!" shouted the audience of 300 people. Some 5,000 people had signed a petition seeking to keep out the church. And council members, who had heard three hours of protest about Santeria, tried to oblige. "They (Santeria practitioners) are in violation of everything this country stands for. I believe this council has the authority to stop these people," said member Silvio Cardoso. But afer the lawyers said the seven council members could be held personally liable if they lost a discrimination suit, the council didn't vote on a proposal to outlaw animal sacrifice in this city of 145,000 people. Instead, it unanimously passed an emergency city law adopting Florida law on the issue, which does not specifically ban the practice if animals are killed humanely. Gross said the vote was moot Florida statutes would supercede a city law. But he said the law is unclear on animal sacrifice, and said he would ask Florida's attorney general for a ruling. Santeria animal sacrifice is performed in rituals seeking favors from the cult's gods. The centuries-old religion, created when African slave beliefs merged with Catholicism, includes the sacrifice of chickens, doves, pigs and goats. Experts believe about 40 percent of South Florida's Hispanic community, or about 1 million people, have explored Santeria. Anthropologists estimate that related, similarly derived religions have 100 million followers in Latin America and the United States. Placards at the hearing read, "Attention cannibals ... and other savages ... get out of the U.S.A.!" and "Hialeah para Cristo (Hialeah for Christ)." One woman told of living next door to a house where Santeria was practiced. "My nights were a horror of drums beating and animals screaming. I have seen them drink blood," Pat Keller said. Pichardo, who briefly attended the hearing, called such claims ridiculous. He said animals are slain quickly and remains disposed of cleanly. Few followers were at the hearing to back him up. "We felt we were going to be swamped by fanatics if we brought in our people, provoking people getting hurt," he said after the hearing. Late Tuesday about a dozen followers met at the Lukumi Babalu-Aye church, which is leased pending its sale to the group. The church still needs an occupancy permit from the city for the church.

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