High Court Delays Execution of TX Man Who Wants Pastor’s Touch

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A Texas man will have his execution delayed after the Supreme Court granted his request to block his execution because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice won’t allow the man’s pastor to “lay hands” on him and pray during his execution, CNN reports. The court said it would hear arguments about the case in October or November. John Ramirez, who was scheduled to be executed Wednesday night, has argued that the prohibition of his pastor’s physical touch violates Ramirez’s rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. Under federal law, the government can’t “substantially burden” an inmate’s religious exercise unless the government demonstrates that doing so is the “least restrictive means to achieve the government’s interest.” Ramirez’s lawyer Seth Kretzer said that the prohibitions on physical touch and audible prayer would force Ramirez’s minister, Rev. Dr. Dana Moore, to “stand in his little corner of the room like a potted plant.” But in briefs filed at the Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton countered that “prisons have a compelling interest in maintaining an orderly, safe, and effective process when carrying out an irrevocable, and emotionally charged, procedure.”

In February, the Supreme Court blocked the execution of an Alabama inmate because the prison wouldn’t allow his spiritual adviser to be present in the execution chambers. But Ramirez’s case, which concerns the actions of spiritual advisers in the chamber, takes the issue a step further. On Ramirez’s side is The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed a friend of the court brief in support of Ramirez. “The right of a condemned person to the comfort of clergy — and the corresponding right of clergy to comfort the condemned — are among the longest-standing and most well-recognized religious exercises known to civilization,” Becket Fund Lawyer Eric Rassbach argued.

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