Texas bans death chamber clergy after Buddhist's complaint

Patrick Murphy Texas death penalty Buddhist

Patrick Murphy (inset) said the state's refusal to allow his Buddhist spiritual adviser in the death chamber was religious discrimination.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Texas has banned all clergy from the death chamber after a Buddhist inmate’s execution was blocked on the grounds of religious discrimination.

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that criminal Patrick Murphy’s execution could not proceed as the state did not allow his Buddhist spiritual adviser to be present, but did allow Christian and Muslim clergy in the chamber.

Following the judgement a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson said all clergy must now observe executions from the witness room rather than be present within the execution chamber.

 Muprhy’s lawyer David Dow said: “"Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol.”

Murphy's lawyers told the high court that executing him without his spiritual adviser in the room would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The 57-year-old, who was among a group of inmates who escaped from a Texas prison in 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including one where a police officer was fatally shot, became a Buddhist while in prison nearly a decade ago.

In his concurring opinion, the court's newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that Texas had two options going forward: allow all inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room, or allow religious advisers only in the viewing room, not the execution room.

"The government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations," Mr Kavanaugh wrote.

Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, called the new policy "cruel and unusual", and urged the department to reconsider.

 

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