DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Texas prisons will no longer allow clergy in the death chamber after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the scheduled execution of a man who argued his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser couldn’t accompany him.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says effective immediately it will only permit security staff into the death chamber because of the high court’s ruling staying the execution of Patrick Murphy. He’s a member of the “Texas 7” gang of escaped prisoners.
Texas previously allowed Christian or Muslim inmates to have state-employed clergy of their religion in the execution room. But no state-vetted Buddhist priest was available for Murphy’s execution, and the court ruled Texas couldn’t proceed without one.
No word on when Murphy’s execution will be rescheduled.
Murphy told CBS 11 recently, his life should be spared because he was on the other side of the building when the fatal shots were fired. However, he does blame himself for being where he is and says he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s innocent.
In light of this policy, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas couldn’t move forward with Murphy’s punishment unless his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state’s choosing accompanied him.
“The government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations,” the court’s newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote in a concurring opinion.
Murphy’s attorneys told the high court that executing the 57-year-old without his spiritual adviser in the room would violate his First Amendment right to freedom of religion. He became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated.
One of those lawyers, David Dow, said the policy change does not address their full argument and mistakes the main thrust of the court’s decision.
“Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol,” Dow said
Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, called the new policy “cruel and unusual,” and urged the department to reconsider.
Prison chaplains will still be able to observe executions from a witness room and meet with inmates on death row beforehand, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel. He declined to elaborate on the reasoning behind the policy change.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)