SCOTUS grants stay of execution to protect Buddhist's equal rights in the death chamber
Sometimes, the sequel is markedly better than the original.
You may remember the hue and cry barely two months ago when the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, denied an application from Domineque Ray, a Muslim inmate who was set for execution in Texas Alabama, to have his prison imam present with him in the death chamber in his final moments—just as Christian inmates could always be accompanied by a chaplain. Excoriating the majority, which relied on the alleged last-minute nature of the inmate’s prayer for relief, Justice Kagan wrote:
“The clearest command of the Establishment Clause,” this Court has held, “is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” But the State’s policy does just that. Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion—whether Islam, Judaism, or any other—he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.
To justify such religious discrimination, the State must show that its policy is narrowly tailored to a compelling interest. I have no doubt that prison security is an interest of that kind. But the State has offered no evidence to show that its wholesale prohibition on outside spiritual advisers is necessary to achieve that goal. Why couldn’t Ray’s imam receive whatever training in execution protocol the Christian chaplain received? The State has no answer. Why wouldn’t it be sufficient for the imam to pledge, under penalty of contempt, that he will not interfere with the State’s ability to perform the execution? The State doesn’t say. The only evidence the State has offered is a conclusory affidavit stating that its policy “is the least restrictive means of furthering” its interest in safety and security. That is not enough to support a denominational preference.