Reuters International

By Girish Gupta and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's highest court will decide whether to annul a ban on animal sacrifice, after admitting a petition by a member of a small religious group saying his constitutional and civil rights were violated.

The case opens up questions of religious freedom but also comes amid an economic and social crisis in Venezuela in which staple foods and medicines are running short.

The petition was filed by a lawyer who said that local ordinances violate the country's constitution. It was accepted by Venezuela's highest court two weeks ago, according to documents on its website.(http://goo.gl/VNLSBu)

The lawyer, Giogerling Mendez, is a self-described adherent of the Santeria religion, which has roots in West African traditions and beliefs brought to Latin America by slaves.

It is practiced by around one in a hundred Venezuelans, according to a 2011 local survey. More than 70 percent of the country identified itself as Catholic in the same poll.

"In our Yoruba religion, known as Santeria, we make animal sacrifices and this is prohibited by procedural laws but protected by the constitution," read the petition.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down ordinances in Hialeah, Florida, that banned animal sacrifice, after the Santeria Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye appealed against the local legislation.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Tom Brown)

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