The Supreme Court has increasingly rejected requests for a stay of execution from prisoners facing execution, but last September it granted such a stay in the case of John Ramirez, who was to die for the 2004 murder of a convenience storeman. of Corpus Christi aged 46. clerk, Pablo Castro.
The lower courts ruled that allowing Ramirez’s pastor to stand near the inmate and pray silently in the death chamber was sufficient to uphold Ramirez’s religious rights. But a wide ideological spectrum of judges disagreed, joining Chief Justice John Roberts’ view supporting a broader interpretation of the government’s duty to respond to prisoners’ religious practices.
“There is a rich history of clerical prayer at the time of a prisoner’s execution, stretching back long before the founding of our nation,” Roberts wrote. “In passing RLUIPA, Congress determined that prisoners like Ramirez have a vested interest in avoiding substantial burdens on their religious exercise, even while confined. … Because it is possible to accommodate Ramirez’s sincere religious beliefs without delaying or preventing his execution, we conclude that the balance of equity and the public interest favor the relief sought.
Texas has argued that allowing a minister to pray aloud during an execution could lead to a verbal statement that could further traumatize the victims present or prevent communication between those carrying out the death penalty. Texas officials also argued the minister could injure the inmate or interfere with medical procedures. But Roberts said those arguments are at odds with past experience, including the history of verbal prayer and the laying on of hands in many previous executions.
Roberts’ 22-page notice did not address the necessary accommodations for ministers during other types of executions, such as those carried out by firing squad, electrocution or gas chamber.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissented on procedural grounds, arguing that Ramirez had improperly raised his objection to efforts to prevent his minister from praying aloud or touching him during the execution.