Back to Near-Unanimity as to Religious Exemptions, in Today’s Condemned Inmate Case
High-profile sharp splits in religious exemption cases (such as Hobby Lobby or Fulton v. City of Philadelphia), whether as to the result (in Hobby Lobby) or the reasoning (in Fulton), can make people think that religious exemption claims always so divide the Supreme Court. That’s not so, as the unanimous decisions in Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (2006) (win for religious exemption from the federal drug law banning hoasca, a hallucinogen) and Holt v. Hobbs (2015) (win for Muslim inmate seeking exemption from a prison no-beards policy).
Today’s 8-1 decision in Ramirez v. Collier, which held that a condemned murderer was entitled to have his Baptist pastor in the execution chamber to audibly pray and to lay hands on him during the execution, shows that the Court can still be nearly unanimous, not just as to the result but also as to the rationale, in religious exemption cases. (The case was litigated under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which generally provides for religious accommodations from, among other things, prison rules, unless the government can show that denying the accommodation is necessary to serve a compelling government interest.) Some excerpts:
To begin, we think Ramirez is likely to succeed in proving [for purposes of getting a preliminary injunction] that his religious requests are “sincerely based on a religious belief.” Ramirez seeks to have his pastor lay hands on him and pray over him during the execution. Both are traditional forms of religious exercise. As Ramirez’s grievance states, “it is part of my faith to have my spiritual advisor lay hands on me anytime I am sick or dying.” Pastor Moore, who has ministered to Ramirez for four years, agrees that prayer accompanied by touch is “a significant part of our faith tradition as Baptists.” And neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals doubted that Ramirez had a sincere religious basis for his requested accommodations.
Respondents’ argument to the contrary turns in large part on a complaint Ramirez filed in 2020. Ramirez filed the complaint while Texas’s prior execution protocol, which banned all spiritual advisors from the execution chamber, was in place. The complaint sought Pastor Moore’s presence and prayer in the chamber, but disclaimed any need for touch … (“When Plaintiff Ramirez is executed, Pastor Moore will pray with him. Pastor Moore need not touch Mr. Ramirez at any time in the execution chamber.”). As respondents see things, this shows that Ramirez’s current request for t
Article from Reason.com