Stayed Execution Over Religious Discrimination Overturned

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 08, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the execution of Domineque Ray, who was set to be executed in Alabama on February 7. And on February 7, SCOTUS overruled the circuit court's stay.

The circuit court had explained that the district court should have stayed the execution due to the violation of Ray's religious freedom. Notably, the stay did not involve the merits of his case, which involve the rape and murder of a 15-year-old child. Rather, the stay was granted because the prison refused to allow Ray to have his imam present, while it does routinely provide a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber.

No Denominational Preferences

The circuit court stressed that governments cannot express a preference for certain religious beliefs or denominations, and that by only allowing a Christian chaplain, the Alabama prison was doing exactly that.

Curiously, before the appeal was filed, the prison agreed to honor Ray's request that the chaplain not be present in the execution chamber. However, it refused to allow Ray's imam to present, citing security concerns. In short, the state claims that "free-world" individuals, or non-prison employees, present a security risk, and explain that the chaplain is a longtime employee.

The prison offered to allow Ray's imam to be present in the witness viewing room. But, unlike the chaplain who would be able to hold Ray's hand in the execution chamber and pray by his side, the imam would be separated by a wall and glass window.

The state sought immediate SCOTUS review of the stay, was successful, and able to adhere to their February 7 execution date.

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