May 2022 Church & State Magazine

Supreme Court Gives Inmate Access To Spiritual Adviser

  Supreme Court Gives Inmate Access To Spiritual Adviser

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late March that a death row inmate in Texas has the right to have his spiritual adviser lay hands on him at the moment of execution.

John Henry Ramirez, a convicted murderer, sought to have the pastor of his Baptist church with him during the execution. Correctional officials in Texas denied the request, arguing it would violate execution protocols.

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Ramirez’s favor March 24, concluding that he will likely prevail due to a 2000 federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The court acknowledged Texas’ concerns but said the state could “satisfy those interests by means less restrictive” than precluding the audible prayers or physical touch of spiritual advisers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, said Texas officials could, for example, restrict the location of physical touch, limit the time period during which touching is permitted or require pastors to undergo training so they can understand the precautionary measures needed to avoid problems in the chamber.

The ruling in Ramirez v. Collier is based on “Texas’s specific execution protocol, chamber, and historical practices.” Similar cases in other states may result in different outcomes.

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