WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on Tuesday in a case regarding access to clergy prayer for the condemned. In Ramirez v. Collier, John Henry Ramirez, a Texas death row inmate, is seeking the ability to pray with and be touched by his spiritual advisor—a Southern Baptist pastor—in his final hour. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the First Amendment and federal civil rights law require the Texas prison system (TDCJ) to allow prisoners the right to meaningful clergy access in their final moments.
The TDCJ’s recent record on clergy access in the death chamber is poor. Prior to 2019, TDCJ allowed chaplains in the death chamber, but after inmate Patrick Murphy asked to be accompanied by his Buddhist minister at his execution in 2019, TDCJ blocked all spiritual advisors from the execution chamber. The State revoked its ban after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of chaplain access in Dunn v. Smith, but TDCJ still prohibits spoken prayer and physical contact in the death chamber, practices it allowed for decades before 2019. In Ramirez v. Collier, the Court is expected to set the record straight once and for all.
SOURCE Becket Law
PHOTO SOURCE Thomas Hawk