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Cockfighting Ban Violates Religious Freedom, Plaintiff Pastor Says

Cockfighting is legal in Thailand. Unlike some countries, Thai cockfighting does not use artificial spurs to increase injury and does not employ the fight to the death rule. Thai birds live to fight another day and are retired after two years of competing.
By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

Chances are, you've never thought of cockfighting as a religious experience.

But there are people who at least claim to view deadly combat by chickens as something downright godly.

One of them is a Louisiana man, Lloyd Plumbar, who claims to be the pastor of a church called Holy Fight Ministries.

Plumbar filed suit in federal district court in Louisiana last month. In his complaint, Plumbar said that he was driving to Holy Fight Ministries on April 29 to lead its "Sunday religious service" when he was pulled over by Livingston County sheriff's deputies, who charged him with several counts of illegal cockfighting.

It's important to interject at this point that there's no such thing as legal cockfighting in Louisiana — or anywhere else in the U.S. (with the exception of several U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam), for that matter. The Bayou State does hold the distinction, however, of being the last jurisdiction in the country to ban cockfighting when it took that step in 2008.

'Man Has Dominion Over Animals'

Despite the activity's illegality, Plumbar argues that cockfighting is part of his, and his church's, religious belief. Therefore, he argues, his arrest was a Constitutional violation of religious freedom.

How does he explain how cockfighting is religiously important? In the words of his attorney, Jim Holt:

"Reverend Plumbar, Holy Fight Ministries and its congregation hold the sincere religious belief" that cockfighting is "a necessary symbolic physical manifestation" of "the struggle between good and evil, a struggle for life or death for the Salvation of the soul, and thus cockfighting is an integral and essential part of their religious faith."

Needless to say, perhaps, but Reverend Plumbar suggests in his complaint that animals don't have rights because "man has dominion over animals."

Information on Plumbar and Holy Fight Ministries is hard to come by. Plumbar's name appears on a 2011 petition to legalize cockfighting in the U.S. And Holy Fight Ministries was formed as a nonprofit religious corporation in 2016.

Holy Fight Ministries does have a Facebook page, but it is devoid of much information besides its posts of Bible passages with accompanying memes. The page does contain two ancient images that appear to portray cockfighting. And the "Related Pages" section contains links to two "gamefowl" companies that raise large, athletic-looking chickens (possession of fighting cocks is legal in 11 states, according to the ASPCA), and a link to the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a political organization that supports the return of legal cockfighting in Oklahoma.

Although cockfighting is illegal in nearly all the U.S., it's popular in many other countries.

Newsweek wrote about cockfighting on July 8 and noted that Indonesians see the practice as effective in warding off evil spirits. The Philippines, the "epicenter of cockfighting," hosts an annual tournament named the "World Slasher Cup." The name comes from the use of razor-sharp blades that are attached to the cocks' legs to disable or kill their opponents.

And there apparently is a demand for American fighting cocks. An Oklahoma-based nonprofit journalism center, The Frontier, reported on May 22 that buyers in Guam purchased 8,800 fighting cocks from 71 different American sources over a recent two-year period.

Illegal Cockfighting Rings in the News

Despite cockfighting's illegality, stories of police breaking up cockfighting rings regularly recur in the news.

Back in Louisiana, Reverend Plumbar can at least take comfort in the fact that Louisiana is one of only eight states where cockfighting is not a felony. It's a place where old traditions not only die hard; they take on religious significance.

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