March 2016 Church & State - March 2015

AU Calls For Secular Advisors In Calif.

  AU admin

Americans United is urging prison officials in California to ensure that death-row inmates who are not religious have access to secular counselors.

In a January letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, AU State Legislative Counsel Amrita Singh noted that non-religious inmates must be treated the same as religious ones.

“Policies that permit inmates access to clergy but do not offer non-theist inmates access to a secular advisor, however, raise constitutional concerns,” Singh wrote.

Singh’s comments are in response to a proposed amendment to regulations governing who may visit inmates who have been moved to secure housing ahead of a scheduled execution. Currently, only attorneys may visit inmates immediately prior to execution. The amendment would expand this privilege to include spiritual advisors, but it makes no accommodation for non-religious inmates.

Americans United says this policy, if adopted, would violate the rights of inmates who may be atheist, agnostic or Humanist; AU urged that it be altered.

“Accordingly, the department should either (1) explicitly create an accommodation for visitors for both religious and non-religious inmates awaiting lethal injection, or (2) amend the definition of ‘spiritual advisor’ to include “spiritual, ethical, or moral, advice, assistance, or guidance,” Singh concluded.

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