US Supreme Court allows pastor to lay hands on death row inmate during execution

After several months of deliberations, the United States Supreme Court allowed the request of John Henry Ramirez, a Texas death row inmate who wanted his pastor to be present during his execution to lay hands on him and pray aloud. 

Last September, John Henry Ramirez, on death row in Texas, got a reprieve after his lawyer, Seth Kretzer argued that the state violated his religious freedom by not allowing the pastor who has accompanied him for several years to lay hands on him and pray aloud at the time of his lethal injection.

Thursday, after four months of deliberation, the United States Supreme Court granted the detainee's request.

“The Court further finds today that the state cannot prevent a religious counselor from engaging in at least some audible prayers and physical contact with the inmate while he is in the execution room. »

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the majority said that while states can place limits on these practices, prohibiting them is unacceptable.

He adds that while the Court “finds that the state has a compelling interest in ensuring the safety, security and solemnity of the execution room,” it believes that these concerns can be addressed otherwise. For example by "limiting the volume of prayers so that medical officials can monitor the medical condition of the detainee", by requiring "silence for critical moments in the execution process" or even by subjecting "counsellors to immediate dismissal for breaking a rule.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the only one of nine Supreme Court justices to oppose the decision. He was skeptical of the detainee's sincerity, denouncing a "manifestly abusive and insincere claim". He notably mentioned the requests made on several occasions by John Henry Ramirez, which are, according to him, unjustified and are intended to delay his execution.

In 2004, John Henry Ramirez was sentenced to death for the murder of Pablo Castro, a grocery store worker whom he stabbed 29 times during a robbery.

Camille Westphal Perrier

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