Two hours after he was supposed to be executed for his role in a notorious 19-year-old crime, Texas death row prisoner Patrick Murphy won a rare stay from the U.S. Supreme Court based on his request to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser next to him in the death chamber, the Houston Chronicle reports. Murphy, one of the last surviving members of the “Texas 7” crew of prison escapees, lobbed a long-shot bid for reprieve this week when his attorneys raised religious discrimination claims, arguing that the converted Buddhist couldn’t make it to the Pure Land for rebirth without a spiritual adviser present as he prepared to die. The regular prison chaplain is a Christian and, in light of that, the Texas prison system’s refusal to accommodate Murphy’s request could be a constitutional violation.
“As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion—in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech—violates the Constitution,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. “The choice of remedy going forward is up to the State. 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.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. “We are pleased the Supreme Court acknowledged both that Mr. Murphy, as a Buddhist, is entitled to be accompanied in the execution chamber during the execution by a minister of his own faith just as a Christian would be,” said his attorneys, David Dow and Jeff Newberry. The decision doesn’t mean that Murphy can’t be executed. It means he gets more time to argue his appeal, unless the Texas prison system chooses to change its protocols to allow Buddhists the same execution chamber religious rights as Christians.