HOLIDAY, Fla. — A Holiday resident asked Pasco County lawmakers at last week's Board of County Commissioners meeting for help with an ongoing issue with a neighbor, who is sacrificing animals as part of his religious practice.
- Pasco Sheriff's Office says resident practices Yoruba
- Neighbors say they have noise, health concerns
- Ritual sacrifice of animals for religious purposes protected under state law
- More Pasco County stories
"We have turned to the health department, code enforcement — I couldn't even tell you how many more," Bruce Bognar said during an interview this week. "I ain't getting nowhere. They can't do nothing because of the religious factor of it."
Bognar said it began last May, shortly after the neighbor moved in. He said large gatherings would be held at the home, and that's when the sacrifice took place.
"Goats, chickens, and I believe I saw a turtle one time," Bognar said.
The yard is fenced off, but Bognar said footage from his security cameras left little doubt about the fate of the animals. He told commissioners he could hear the sounds of slaughter from inside his home.
"It's the noise, the shedding of the blood, dumping the bloody water in the back yard," Bognar said of his issues with the gatherings.
Noise, health concerns among other neighbors
Neighbors said they think the slaughter is causing other issues, as well.
"You just want to sit out here, and when it's warm, you really smell it. You know -- what dried blood smells like," said Carol Polyschuk.
"I've seen raccoons, possums -- all kinds of animals it's drawing in," said Cindy Cotten.
According to Chase Daniels, assistant executive director for the Office of the Sheriff, the resident is practicing Yoruba, a recognized religion protected under Florida statute.
According to the state's Humane Slaughter Act, "in order to protect freedom of religion, ritual slaughter and the handling or other preparation of livestock for ritual slaughter are exempted from the terms of" the act. It also states "ritual slaughter" must be in accordance with another state law, Statute 828.23.
Regarding animal cruelty, the statute defines a "humane method" of slaughter as, "a method in accordance with ritual requirements of any religious faith" in which the animal's carotid arteries are simultaneously and instantly cut with a sharp instrument.
Daniels also said investigators found that the gatherings in Holiday were limited to family and didn't involve outside participants, which means they're not operating as a church without being properly zoned.
County exploring options
"The options are limited. Religion is protected under our U.S. Constitution, but we do think we have a couple of options that maybe we can bring to the neighborhood," said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
Starkey said she wants to arrange a neighborhood meeting in the hopes a compromise between neighbors and the resident practicing Yoruba can be reached.
"I hope that we can find that balance where everyone's home is their castle and that they can enjoy their time in their home," she said.
We made multiple attempts to reach the resident at his home and business, but we were unsuccessful.
What is Yoruba?
Tori Lockler, a senior instructor and undergraduate director of the University of South Florida's Religious Studies Department, said Yoruba originated in west Africa. It came to the Caribbean, and later the United States, through the slave trade.
Lockler said for years it existed only as traditions that were blended, like Santeria or voodoo.
"Now, we have more and more practitioners that are attempting to go back to the original and take their African roots and really bring that back to the tradition," Lockler said.
It's a tradition she said is active in Tampa Bay.
"There's a very large Santeria community and Santerismo, which is a blend of the two. There is a Yoruba community, but whether or not they see themselves as part of Santeria -- it's kind of a fluid description," Lockler said.
According to Lockler, animal sacrifice is a ritual that is performed for initiations or to rid someone of illness. She noted the 1993 ruling in the Supreme Court Case Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah protected animal sacrifice performed as part of a religious practice.
"The only thing it is problematic for is the discarding of animals, and that's often seen as challenging, whether it's in Tampa or whether it's in Hialeah," Lockler said.
Neighbors want it to stop
Bognar said the gatherings at the home stopped in July after he complained to the sheriff's office but another was held last month. He and neighbors said they want them to stop.
"Your religion is your religion. If this is what you do in your religion, hey -- that's cool with me," said Bognar. "Just don't do it around me."
"I don't believe it should be in a residential neighborhood, when it just boils down to it. We moved in here with five kids, and I'd rather not be living near a slaughterhouse," said Cotten.
A representative from Starkey's office said they also weren't able to get in touch with the resident practicing Yoruba, so no neighborhood meeting has been scheduled yet.