The state of Texas has banned all prison chaplains from its execution chamber, following a Supreme Court decision that halted the execution of a Buddist man who was denied the presence of his chaplain.
Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, had been scheduled to die this Thursday. Murphy requested access to a Buddhist minister a month before his scheduled execution, and his request was denied because the minister was not a state employee. The prison system only allowed clerics employed by the state to enter the execution chamber. Currently, the state only employs Christian and Muslim clerics.
Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion on why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.
Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.
To avoid discrimination, Kavanaugh said, the Texas prison system should either allow chaplains of all faiths into the execution chamber or else not allow any chaplains at all.
New execution procedures signed April 2 say that chaplains and ministers may “observe the execution only from the witness rooms.” Currently, friends and family of the murder victims and prisoners, as well as media, are allowed to watch executions through a glass window in small viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber, the Texas Tribune reports.
State employed chaplains will still be made available in the viewing room if the prisoner desires.
The state’s decision to ban all chaplains from the execution chamber comes two months after the Supreme Court denied an Alabama Muslim man’s request to have his imam present at his execution, citing the last-minute nature of his request.
Murphy, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a 2000 robbery in Irving, TX during which members of the group killed an off-duty police officer.
All members of the 7, except one who took his own life, were sentenced to death for the officer’s murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.
The Texas Catholic Conference last week applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to stay Murphy’s execution, saying, “Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church.”