A Death Row inmate’s religious request to have his pastor place hands on him during his execution is being examined by Supreme Court Justices, said the Associated Press (AP).
John Henry Ramirez is sitting on Death Row in Texas for killing a convenience store worker during a robbery in 2004. The AP said that he stabbed the clerk 29 times and robbed him of $1.25.
The question that Supreme Court Justices are concerned with is whether or not their decision will open up a trove of cases from other death row inmates who may have similar religious requests during their executions.
Ramirez is requesting that his pastor be able to touch him during the execution, even if it’s on the foot, said the article.
“What’s going to happen when the next prisoner says that I have a religious belief that he should touch my knee? He should hold my hand. He should put his hand over my heart. He should be able to put his hand on my head. We’re going to have to go through the whole human anatomy with a series of cases,” said Justice Samuel Alito.
Other concerned Justices are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who asked whether all states would make similar accommodations if they rule for the plaintiff.
The Ramirez case failed in Texas and in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court put a cessation to his scheduled Sept. 8 execution just so they could hear the case.
Freedom of religion is covered by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Ramirez’s attorney Seth Kretzer told Justice Thomas that a federal law that protects the religious rights of prisoners requires the state to accommodate him.
Three liberal Justices are siding with Ramirez’s argument, said the article. Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonya Sotomayor pointed out that Ramirez’s chaplain will be a safe distance away from the restraints. Justices Kagan and Breyer noted that the practice has been done in the past.
But Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with Texas’s state Solicitor General Judd Stone II, who said that Ramirez’s request is just an effort to postpone his execution. Justice Thomas asked what the Justices are to do if they believe that Ramirez has changed his request a number of times.
The State of Texas objects to having a free person in the room and touching a Death Row inmate at any time during the execution.
“An outsider touching the inmate during lethal injection poses an unacceptable risk to the security, integrity, and solemnity of the execution,” said Texas in briefs filed with the court.