MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, the 5th day of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: Texas bans chaplains from the execution chamber.
Texas did that in response to the U.S. Supreme Court halting an execution last week. Within hours of Patrick Murphy’s scheduled execution, the Supreme Court directed the Texas Departments of Corrections to treat all inmates’ religious requests in the same way.
Christian and Muslim death row inmates are accommodated.
BASHAM: But Murphy converted to Buddhism a decade ago. He requested a Buddhist religious adviser to go with him into the death chamber. But he was denied that service on the basis that the prison system doesn’t employ Buddhist advisers.
In response to the Supreme Court’s order, the Department of Criminal Justice banned all clergy from the execution chamber.
Believe it or not, most states don’t permit clergy in the death chamber. So this change puts Texas more in line with other death penalty states. But it’s sure to face a challenge.
REICHARD: An organization that filed a friend of the court brief supporting Murphy may have helped changed minds on the high court. Luke Goodrich is senior counsel with Becket, an organization that defends the free exercise of all faiths.
GOODRICH: Texas is already accommodating multiple religions within the prison system. …So all that the plaintiffs are asking for here is that an already trained, already vetted chaplain whose already been serving in high security settings could get the additional training needed to enter the execution chamber.
Goodrich warns that violating inmates’ basic rights is a harbinger for violating everyone’s rights.
GOODRICH: So just like we don’t torture prisoners or subject them to cruel or unusual punishment, we don’t take away their religious freedom for arbitrary and unnecessary reasons.
It’s unfortunate that Texas decided it would rather provide religious freedom to nobody than to extend religious freedom to Buddhists.
And unfortunately, that’s a dynamic that we often see among governments, where if it starts to become even the least bit difficult to accommodate religious practices they’ll just try to shut them all down.
BASHAM: The Murphy case came only weeks after the Supreme Court allowed the execution of a Muslim inmate in Alabama. That state denied the man’s request for an Islamic spiritual adviser to accompany him into the execution chamber.
Some legal observers think the blow-back from that decision led to a different result in the Texas case.