NEW BEDFORD, MA (WJAR/NBC) - A New Bedford, MA, barbershop was closed Tuesday when city officials said they found animals in the basement that may have been intended for religious sacrifice.
Animal control officers removed pigeons, two chickens and four roosters, one dead, from the basement of Bad Boyz Cutz.
Owner William Camacho said he practices Palo Mayombe, an Afro-Caribbean religion similar to Santeria, and that his religious freedoms have been violated.
He said he does not sacrifice animals at the barbershop, but only at religious ceremonies in rural settings.
"They violated my rights," Camacho said. "We do sacrifice them, but not here. It's part of our religion, and that's the way we do it."
Camacho said he was moving the birds to a chicken coop at another location when inspectors arrived.
"It's very insulting to me because what happens is, where I come from, it's very known. But this town, it's ignorant for them because they don't know what type of religion it is," Camacho said.
City officials said it is illegal to keep livestock inside a business in downtown New Bedford, even for a short time.
An emergency cease-and-desist order was issued.
"His barbershop isn't closed because of his religion. It's closed because of health violations, and he needs to get them straightened out in a hurry," Mayor Scott Lang said.
The city health department said it received a complaint last week about roosters crowing and that inspectors began checking businesses on the block on Tuesday.
"The roosters were cooped up in cages. There was one deceased rooster that was in a box taped up with two live pigeons," chief sanitarian Michael Antaya said.
Camacho might face animal cruelty charges because of the dead rooster.
Camacho said he's losing $700 a day with the shop closed.
The city said the barbershop can reopen once the owner shows it has been professionally cleaned and that the animals have been removed.
Lang said a court might have to decide if Camacho can sacrifice animals for religion elsewhere in the city.
"I want to make sure I understand what sacrifice means before I'm able to give a blank check to anyone that New Bedford's open for sacrifice," Lang said.
Camacho said he's ready to fight a legal battle, if it comes to that.
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