Oral Arguments about Inmate’s Religious Rights Heard in Supreme Court after Lengthy Appeals Fail at State Level

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By Amy Fullerton 

WASHINGTON D.C. – Religious freedoms, which are protected by the First Amendment, have recently made headlines when an inmate on death row pleaded—after lengthy battles at the state level—for his argument regarding religious rights to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the morning of Nov. 9, the Supreme Court heard the introductory oral arguments for the Ramirez v Collier case.

John H. Ramirez, the defendant filing the suit, believes that he has the constitutional right to have his pastor read him prayers aloud and lay his hands on him as he is put to death by the state for his 2004 conviction.

According to NPR, Ramirez has been on death row since the early 2000’s after he stole a dollar and 25 cents and murdered Pablo Castro, a convenience store worker in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ramirez was scheduled to be put to death Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. in Texas but the Supreme Court halted his execution three hours after the scheduled time.

Spiritual advisors and a number of high-level correction officers who have witnessed 50-plus executions stand in support of Ramirez’s claims.

According to the ACLU (The American Civil Liberties Union) that filed the amicus brief on behalf of the spiritual leaders and correction officers, inmates should have the right to connect with their beliefs one last time before death, arguing this may include spiritual leaders physically touching their advisees to give them their final moments in comfort.

According to Daniel Mach, the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, federal law protects Ramirez’s last wishes.

“Federal law clearly protects Mr. Ramirez’s right to receive spiritual comfort from his pastor in his final moments. As the spiritual advisors and former corrections officials make clear in our brief, Texas simply has no good reason to deny Mr. Ramirez this last act of critical religious exercise. We hope the Supreme Court will correct this blatant violation of Mr. Ramirez’s religious liberty and order Texas to grant his request,” said Mach.

To read the amicus brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and learn more about the unprecedented case, visit www.aclu.org/legal-document/ramirez-v-collier-scotus-amicus-brief-spiritual-leaders-and-corrections-officials.

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About The Author

Amy is a junior at UCSB triple majoring in Psychology and Brain Sciences, Communication, and Political Science. She is from Redwood City, California.

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