The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


In human rights law, freedom of religion generally possesses three main components: the right to freedom of thought and conscience, freedom to manifest religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess, disseminate, or share religion or beliefs. The latter two are typically subject to restrictions such as public safety, health, morals, and the rights and freedoms of others. They are also the two most often litigated components. For centuries, colonizers deprived practitioners of their freedom of religion in the Americas – specifically African-based traditions, such as Voodoo. Stereotypes about Voodoo, which stem from early colonizer observance and belief that Haitians were too powerful in numbers, have led to the marginalization of those who practice this religion. In the mid-nineteenth century, the United States recognized a hotbed of Voodoo in the New Orleans territory and attempted to suppress it by passing laws directly targeted at Voodoo practices. Today, there are many factors within the court system which affect the freedom of religion of Vodou and Voodoo practitioners. In numerous domestic cases, parties and the court make unchallenged negative assumptions about Voodoo practice. Additionally, largely ignored is the practice of Voodoo in educational settings. This prevents a public dialogue which might preclude stereotypes about the practice. Voodoo functions in the court system to prove insanity, unfit parenting, inadequate defense, grounds for divorce, and numerous other arguments. The detrimental effects of political agendas and the media portrayals of cannibalism, black magic, and child sacrifice as part of the religion poses a grave threat to the practice of Voodoo. In order to truly cast off the bounds of slavery and racism, protection of Vodou and Voodoo from the images of which they were cultivated during the time of slavery in America is necessary.

Volume Number


Issue Number



St. Mary's University School of Law



Included in

Law Commons