By Sofia Leguria and Shady Gonzales
WASHINGTON, DC – A week ago, the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled in Ramirez v. Collier a man on death row can, because of religious reasons, have a priest with him at his execution.
John Ramirez is currently an incarcerated individual on death row for murdering a man in 2004. His original scheduled date of execution was in 2017, but then was rescheduled for 2021.
Ramirez claims he has the right to have his pastor pray aloud and lay his hands on Ramirez while he is being executed.
Every state has different laws when it comes to the execution day. In 2019 Alabama allowed an Imam present at a Muslim man’s execution, but did not allow a chaplain to be at a Christian man’s death.
One month later the Court stopped Texas from executing a Buddhist inmate without letting him have a Buddhist priest present.
As a result Texas passed a law to not allow any spiritual advisors at the executions across the board, but they were challenged again and overturned that law.
In an 8-1 ruling, SCOTUS dismissed the state’s argument that Ramirez’s requests would disrupt the execution or act as a safety liability and ruled that Texas had no valid reason for denying the religious accommodations.
The court asserted that Ramirez would be “likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief [if] unable to engage in protected religious exercise in the final moments of his life.”
Ramirez’s arguments were upheld by spiritual advisors and former high-level corrections officials who have experience with executions by witnessing, participating in, or overseeing them.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief on behalf of this group with the Supreme Court.
In the brief, the group clarified the vital role spiritual advisors play in executions and restated that Ramirez’s wishes did not pose a risk to security therefore they should be honored.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in the majority, but wrote a separate concurring opinion to highlight the importance of the legal obligations prison officials have to establish a grievance process.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh also was in the majority opinion, but noted every state should treat religions equally.
In contrast, Justice Clarence Thomas argued Ramirez was just trying to delay his execution, which does not yet have a new date.