Skeletons and sickles are part of an altar tied to a darker side of religious belief.

La Santisima Muerte or “Holy Death” is believed to honor the dead and offers protection to those who pray to her.

Gracie Arroyo has two shrines right outside her McAllen home at the corner of La Vista Avenue and North 26th Street.

“For me, the Santa Muerte, I’m not hiding her,” Gracie said. “She’s my belief. I’ve always believed in her since I was 13 years old. I love her to death.”

But her public love for the saint has come at a price.

She uses pad locks to secure her altars and cameras have been installed around the perimeter of her home.

Gracie says a vandal tried to break the statues last year.

Now there’s a push by people who live and own property in the area to have the City of McAllen force her to take them down.

One man, who did not want to be identified, recently contacted the city to see if they violated and ordinances or public nuisance laws.

“It does have illegal connotations,” he said.

Santa Muerte is often tied to demons and the drug cartel.

Smugglers build altars to help protect their illegal loads, according to law enforcement.

They’re all reasons why the some believe Gracie’s shrines should not be permitted to be out in the open near kids.

“To subject children at an elementary school across the street to something like this every day when they walk home it’s a little disconcerting,” the father said. “I don’t have anything against freedom of religion; it’s just can you put it in your backyard or in the privacy of your own home?”

Gracie, who’s a licensed optician and mother of four, has no plans to take them down.

“For me, instead of having a Buddha or having any other saint outside my home, I have the Santa Muerte,” she explained.

Gracie says her spiritual love is not meant to offend and she is not involved in any illegal activity.

“If they don’t like where I have my altars, they don’t have to pass through the front of my house,” she said.

The City of McAllen’s code compliance department did investigate after the complaints about the Santa Muerte altars.

Josh Ramirez, who’s the director, says they did not violate any ordinance.

He adds how the public has the right to practice freedom of religion on private property.

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