If Nothing Else, We Learn That In a Fight Over a Goat Sacrifice, the Goat Always Loses

Categories: Cover Story
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Brandon Thibodeaux
Jose Merced
The sleepy suburb of Euless seems an odd spot for a battle over goat sacrifice. Perhaps that's what first attracted us to the story of Jose Merced, a commercial flight attendant who also happens to be a high priest in the Afro-Cuban religion called Santería, in which animal sacrifice serves as a principal form of devotion. We wrote about Merced in the paper version of Unfair Park back in October, in a piece that chronicles how the city of Euless first prohibited him from sacrificing goats on his property; how he sued them in district court and lost; and finally, how he appealed the decision to a federal appeals court and won.

When we left him, it seemed likely that his case -- Jose Merced v. City of Euless -- would land in the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not decide Merced's case on First Amendment grounds, but rather on its interpretation of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Nevertheless, the case received international fame as a victory for religious freedom. The appeals court also ordered the city of Euless to pay Merced's attorneys' fees, but left the amount for the lower court to determine.

Although the city of Euless decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court, they continued to fight, particularly after Merced's lawyers at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty asked for approximately $350,000 in legal fees. A U.S. district judge set a hearing to determine the fees on January 14, but Euless demanded a jury trial. More delay. More costs.

"Euless City Council never seems to learn," Eric Rassbach at the Becket Fund told Unfair Park in early January. "Not only do they still have their own lawyers' meters running on a case they lost last July, they also have our meters running. ... Euless taxpayers ought to start asking council members how much money they've spent so far and how much more they intend to spend fighting the last war."

That last war finally ended yesterday.

Not in a jury trial, however. Instead, the district judge ordered the parties to hold a private mediation, where it was agreed that Euless would pay $175,000 in plaintiff attorney fees. Case closed, right?

Well, not exactly.

"As it pertains to Mr. Merced, I suppose so," says Bradford Bullock, one of the attorneys representing Euless. "As it pertains to the Texas law at issue, no, I don't think it's the end of that."
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