SCOTUS will decide what religious accommodations ought to be afforded to death row inmates

Under the U.S. Constitution, does a prisoner have the right to have a religious advisor, such as a priest, pray out loud in the execution chamber as he is being executed? Does the prisoner have the right to have a religious advisor hold his hand or otherwise touch him during the execution?

These are the questions that the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are currently considering in a lawsuit brought by a prisoner on death row who is asking for these religious accommodations. 

Background

The case originates from Texas, and the death row inmate who has brought the lawsuit is John Henry Ramirez. Ramirez is set to be executed by lethal injection for an incident that occurred back in 2004 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Ramirez has been convicted of killing a convenience store worker, while in the process of committing a robbery. It was a truly horrific crime as Ramierz stabbed his victim 29 times.

Ramirez has been on death row since his conviction, and he has requested to have a religious advisor be present in the execution chamber to pray out loud and perhaps even touch him while doing so. Texas, however, has denied Ramirez’s request.

The state, in fact, has implemented laws that prevent religious pastors from doing anything like this. Under these laws, religious advisors are allowed to be in a separate room during execution, but they are not allowed in the execution chamber, and they are certainly not allowed to touch the person being executed, for obvious reasons.

After his request was denied by Texas, Ramirez decided to file a lawsuit claiming that his Constitutionally protected religious freedoms have been violated.

The latest

This week, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices, in fact, heard oral arguments on Tuesday.

The court’s conservative contingent, during oral arguments, appeared skeptical of Ramirez’s case. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, asked whether Ramirez is “gaming the system,” and Thomas even questioned “the sincerity of [Rameriz’s] religious beliefs.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, on the other hand, seemed in agreement with the state’s argument that part of the purpose of the laws is to minimize the risks of the execution.

And, Justice Samuel Alito warned that granting Ramirez’s request could lead to an “unending stream of variations,” in which prisoners make similar requests in an attempt to put off their executions.

So, based on oral arguments, things are not looking great for Ramirez. But, we’ll have to wait and see what the court decides. For now, the court has halted all executions in Texas until the matter is resolved.

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