The United States Supreme Court has ruled that an inmate on death row in Texas should be allowed to have a pastor lay hands on him and pray aloud when he is executed, reversing a lower court ruling.
In an opinion released Thursday morning, the high court ruled 8-1 that John Henry Ramirez was likely to succeed in his complaint against Texas for not allowing his pastor to lay hands on him when he’s executed by lethal injection for having murdered a man in 2004.
The high court reversed an earlier ruling and has remanded the case for further legal proceedings to determine a solution that respects the religious beliefs of Ramirez.
Chief Justice John Roberts gave the court’s opinion, concluding that “Ramirez is likely to succeed in showing that Texas’ policy substantially burdens his exercise of religion” and that “the government has not shown that it is likely to carry that burden.”
“Given the current record, respondents have not shown that a total ban on audible prayer is the least restrictive means of furthering their asserted interests,” wrote Roberts.
Roberts also rejected the government’s claim that clergy within the execution chamber should not be allowed to be closer than three feet from a prisoner, in the name of preventing interference with the execution.
“We do not see how letting the spiritual advisor stand slightly closer, reach out his arm, and touch a part of the prisoner’s body well away from the site of any IV line would meaningfully increase risk. And that is all Ramirez requests here,” continued Roberts.
“We think that preventing accidental interference with the prison’s IV lines is a compelling governmental interest. But we also think it is one reasonably addressed by means short of banning all touch in the execution chamber.”
Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter, writing that he questioned the sincerity of Ramirez’s beliefs, and viewed the litigation as simply trying to delay his execution.
“Ramirez has manufactured more than a decade of delay to evade the capital sentence lawfully imposed by the state of Texas,” Thomas wrote.
“This Court now affords yet another chance for him to delay his execution. Because I think Ramirez’s claims either do not warrant equitable relief or are procedurally barred, I respectfully dissent.”
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