Almost 23 years ago, the working-class city of Hialeah became the national epicenter for the fight for religious freedom.
In a case that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye successfully sued Hialeah to be able to freely practice the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, which sacrifices animals for spiritual rituals.
Now, decades after the 1993 Supreme Court case declared Hialeah violated the First Amendments rights of religious freedom by banning Santeria, a woman has filed another lawsuit against the city claiming it terminated her Section 8 voucher because she practices Santeria.
Rosa Cabrera and her friend Nelson Marquez claim the Hialeah Housing Authority ended her subsidized rent because of her religious beliefs.
According to the lawsuit, Cabrera was at home when she got a knock on the door. She opened it to find a uniformed man who told her he was with the Housing Authority and insisted on searching her apartment.
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Inside the apartment, the complaint continues, the worker found Marquez conducting religious rituals in one of the rooms and he muttered, “Yes, I see this is Satanic stuff.”
Soon after the investigator searched her apartment, Cabrera received a letter terminating her Section 8 voucher — alleging she had allowed Marquez to live with her. The two submitted documents arguing the termination and provided a letter from Marquez’s landlord, a copy of his driver’s license, and an electric bill confirming he lived in a different place.
The housing authority later accused Cabrera of allowing her grandson and her sister to live with her. But Cabrera also denied those accusations.
Cabrera says two investigators asked her two write a letter denying that she was charging people for tarot card and cowrie shell readings. She agreed and the letter was put into her file.
According to a November 2014 hearing, Rene Gutierrez, the housing investigator assigned to Cabrera’s case, admitted to setting up a recorded call between her and the landlord, so she could be interrogated about charging for her tarot card readings – never mentioning the topic of who lived with her.
In a written comment from the Miami New Times, the attorney for Cabrera and Marquez said, "Ever since the day Gutierrez entered Cabrera's apartment and saw the religious figure, he wanted to terminate Cabrera and Marquez's Section 8 vouchers at all costs."