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John Henry Ramirez, sentenced to death in Texas, seeks chaplain during execution;  the allies are flocking

John Henry Ramirez, awaiting execution at Huntsville Unity Prison in Texas, wants the same thing Americans gave Nazi war criminals convicted in front of the gallows after the Nuremberg trials: a chaplain to pray with in the hour of death.

A series of groups supporting religious and atheist / humanist causes have stepped up to advocate for the inmate’s demand, or even to abolish the death penalty, with briefs appealed to the Supreme Court this week. The High Court will hear oral argument on November 1.

Ramirez, 37, was sentenced to death for the murder of Pablo Castro, 46, during a theft in 2004 from a convenience store in Corpus Christi, Texas. The theft brought in $ 1.26 and the victim was stabbed 29 times, according to media reports.

The Supreme Court suspended Ramirez’s execution on September 8 following the inmate’s appeal against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s refusal to allow Reverend Dana Moore, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi , to enter the chamber of death to “lay hands” on Ramirez. and pray with him before you die.

“It’s been centuries, it’s not something new,” lawyer Seth Kretzer, who represents Ramirez in this First Amendment case, said in a telephone interview. “Someone decided he didn’t like being told what to do and wouldn’t let this pastor pray,” he said of Texas prison officials.

The state’s opposition apparently stems from a 2019 case in which Patrick Murphy asked authorities to allow his Buddhist priest to enter the execution chamber and say prayers on Murphy’s death. Until then, Christian and Muslim chaplains were allowed to be with an inmate during their execution, but Texas did not have a Buddhist chaplain on its prison staff.

When the district-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a brief in the Murphy case, the Supreme Court suspended that execution, after which Texas changed the rules to ban all clergy from the execution chamber. Another Supreme Court ruling in an Alabama case involving murderer Willie B. Smith III led Texas to allow clergy to be in the room when a prisoner is executed, but banned prayer or the physical contact.

In his case asking the Supreme Court to dismiss Ramirez’s appeal, Texas officials argued that the inmate had not exhausted his remedies within the state system and claimed Ramirez would likely lose because his request for Reverend Moore to lay his hand on him came late and may have been a tactic to prevent the execution. Ramirez had not previously requested the presence of the clergy during his execution.

In a response filed with the Supreme Court, Mr. Kretzer denied the state’s claim.

“The question arises as to why the respondents wish to make the ‘sincerity of Ramirez’s religious beliefs’ an issue when all federal reviewing courts have concluded that Ramirez’s sincerity is not an issue. It’s unstable ground for the state [of Texas] walk, ”he wrote.

Becket Fund attorney Chris Pagliarella said the issue was not state rules, but country principles.

“It’s not about what Ramirez did or these people [who] committed truly horrific crimes, but pretty much the values ​​we have as a country, ”Mr Pangliarella, who participated in Becket’s brief in the Ramirez case. “I think there is probably no better example of this than even for Nazi war criminals [who were] gave them the chaplain right there on the gallows to pray over them.

A group of three atheist and humanist organizations also filed a brief with the Supreme Court on the Ramirez case.

Lawyers representing the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association have argued that “the death penalty is a barbaric relic that has often been justified by religious scriptures, and has no place in it. modern society. A state sponsored execution violates the Eighth Amendment because it permanently destroys a person’s human dignity and therefore is cruel and unusual.

All three groups also argue that allowing only religious accommodations for believing prisoners “would unacceptably favor religious people on death row over their non-religious counterparts and would have a strong coercive proselytizing effect because no one, religious or not, does not want to die alone ”.

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