Despite clear rulings and centuries of history, including its own traditional practices, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) recently imposed two rules—one preventing clergy from praying aloud and one preventing clergy from touching the inmate—contrary to centuries of tradition. TDCJ said these long-accepted prayers would “disrupt the execution” despite any evidence that they had or would.
Death row inmate John Henry Ramirez is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to order the TDCJ to follow the Constitution, federal law, and its own historic practice and allow his spiritual advisor—a Southern Baptist pastor—to pray aloud for him and hold his hand in his final moments. On September 8, 2021, the Supreme Court granted expedited review of Ramirez v. Collier, in which a prisoner seeks to have his pastor pray aloud and lay his hands on him during his execution. CLS filed an amicus brief addressing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s (RLUIPA’s) protections for the prisoner’s free exercise. The brief was joined by the National Association of Evangelicals, the Anglican Church in North America, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Queens Federation of Churches, and The Rutherford Institute. Special thanks to Professor Tom Berg and his students in the Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) School of Law for their dedication in quickly drafting CLS’ brief.
On November 9, 2021, the justices heard oral argument on why inmates have the right to receive religious comfort and guidance in their final moments.