Thursday, January 07, 2021

Rules For Possessing Coyotes Survive Free Exercise Challenge

In Tranchita v. Callahan, (ND IL, Jan. 5, 2021), an Illinois federal district court rejected an attempt by a wildlife educator who cares for orphan coyote pups to recover a coyote taken from her by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Department insists that the breeder must hold a hound running area permit in order to legally possess the coyote. Plaintiff claims, among other assertions, that the permit requirement violates her free exercise of religion rights:

Tranchita contends that it is her religious belief that she must “‘do unto others as [she] would have them do unto [her],’” that this belief “extends to animals as well as humans,” and that running hounds after coyotes violates this belief.

All the parties agreed that the permit requirement is neutral and generally applicable. The court then concluded:

Because the Hound Running Permit requirement is neutral and generally applicable, the Court must next ask whether the requirement “is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”... And it is here that Tranchita fails to show a likelihood of success on the merits. No matter how tame a coyote may seem, it is still a wild animal that could pose danger to other animals (such as pets) and people if it were to escape from its enclosure in a densely populated area. Illinois has a legitimate interest in trying to prevent such situations from occurring, and it may do so through regulating who can possess coyotes and where.