Texas bars spiritual advisers from death chambers

Georgia woman sentenced to death for starving stepdaughter

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will bar chaplains, ministers and spiritual advisers from execution chambers in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last week that halted the execution of an inmate who sought to have his Buddhist spiritual adviser in the death chamber.

The move is the latest step in a controversy that pit the religious liberty concerns of death row inmates against security concerns of prisons.

The justices agreed to stay Patrick Henry Murphy’s execution, but weeks earlier, had denied a similar request from an inmate in Alabama.

Murphy’s initial request had been denied by Texas because officials said for security reasons only prison employees were allowed into the chamber, and the prison only employed Christian and Muslim advisers.

Lawyers for Murphy challenged the policy arguing that it violated Murphy’s religious liberty rights. The Supreme Court stepped in and put the execution on hold.

In a statement released Wednesday, the state now says that, “effective Immediately,” the protocol now only allows security personnel in the execution chamber.

“Chaplains and Ministers/Spiritual Advisors designated by the offender may observe the execution only from the witness rooms,” the state says.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Murphy, only Justice Brett Kavanaugh detailed his thinking in the brief order. He said that the government “may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations.”

Kavanaugh also said that states had two options going forward: allow all inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room or allow inmates to have a religious adviser, including a state-employed chaplain, only in the viewing room, not the execution room.

“What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room,” he wrote.

Murphy’s planned execution has not been rescheduled.