In a religious liberty case that could end up having far reaching consequences, the Supreme Court has halted the execution of death row inmate John Ramirez to consider his request for his minister to be present during the execution. Ramirez has asked the State of Texas to allow his pastor to lay hands on him and pray aloud while he is executed. Prison authorities denied that request, but the Court will now have the final say.
The Supreme Court will review the case on its merits, with no noted dissents.
Ramirez was sentenced to death for the 2004 killing of a convenience store worker during a robbery. While in prison, Ramirez grew close to Dana Moore, a pastor at Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Prison authorities denied his request that Moore hold his hand and pray for him while he dies, and Ramirez’s lawyers say such a decision amounts to a violation of his religious freedom. The case will be considered in October or November.
It’s the latest such case to be taken up by the court. In 2019, a Muslim death row inmate named Dominique Ray asked that his Imam be present for his death. But the prison only employed Christian chaplains, and since only prison employees are allowed in Alabama executions, bringing an Imam was ruled to be a “security risk.” The case went to the Supreme Court, which determined that Ray had not made his request early enough and denied it. Ray was executed alone.
But in the meantime, the state of Alabama sought to shore up its case against Ray by ending the practice of allowing any clergy or spiritual leaders to be present during an execution. Many advocates see this as an enormous violation with sweeping implications for religious liberty. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama could not execute Willie Smith unless it honored his request to have his minister present when he died. He is scheduled to be executed on October 21, with his pastor by his side.