Chaplains banned from execution chambers in Texas after a Supreme Court ruling

12 April 2019

Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, argued that his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser could not accompany him into the chamber

PA

The death chamber in the “Walls Unit”, Huntsville Unit, Texas

The death chamber in the “Walls Unit”, Huntsville Unit, Texas

CHAPLAINS have been banned from execution chambers in Texas after a Supreme Court ruling.

Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, was granted a stay of execution by the decision of the court last week, after he argued that his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser could not accompany him into the chamber.

Texas had refused Mr Murphy’s request as the prison system allows only clerics employed by the state to enter the execution chamber: currently, the state only employs Christian and Muslim clerics.

It has now moved to bar all religious and spiritual chaplains or advisers from entering the execution chamber.

Mr Murphy was one of the “Texas Seven” gang that escaped from prison in 2000 and murdered a police officer. He became a Buddhist six years ago while on death row.

David Dow, one of Mr Murphy’s lawyers, said that Texas’s response had not addressed the Supreme Court’s argument. “Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol.”

Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh wrote that the state had two options: “(1) allow all inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room; or (2) allow inmates to have a religious adviser, including any state-employed chaplain, only in the viewing room, not the execution room”.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) said in a statement: “TDCJ chaplains will continue to be available to an offender until they are transferred to the execution chamber.

“The offender’s approved spiritual adviser will continue to have the ability to visit the offender and be present in the witness room. This change is effective immediately.”

Luke Goodrich, the vice-president of Becket, a religious-liberty law firm, said: “Religious freedom includes the vital requirement of equal treatment across all religious faiths. But it also means the government can’t prohibit religious practices without a very powerful reason for doing so — which Texas doesn’t have here.”

The executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Kristin Houlé, called the new policy “cruel and unusual”.

The Texas Catholic Conference welcomed the Supreme Court’s stay of execution. In a statement, it said: “Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church.”

Texas executed 13 people last year: more than half of all people executed in the United States.

Forthcoming Events

5 June 2019
Green Health Live 2 | Lambeth Palace
A day conference for chaplains, health care professionals and all those interested in the healing environment.  More details.

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