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The death penalty in the U.S.

Developments during 2019:

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2019-MAR: U.S. Executions during 2018:

Twenty-five prisoners were executed in the U.S. during 2018. This is two more than were executed during 2017. All were male. 14 were White, 6 Black, and 5 Hispanic.

23 executions happened in Texas; 3 in Tennessee; 2 each in Alabama, Florida and Georgia; and 1 each in Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota.

Twenty three were by lethal injection; two were by electrocution.

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2019-MAR-28: The U.S. Supreme Court postponed an execution in Texas:

In the case Murphy vs. Collier, the High Court ordered a stay in the execution of Patrick Murphy.

During the year 2000, he and some other inmates had escaped from prison, and engaged in multiple robberies. During one of these robberies, Murphy shot a police officer who later died. He was arrested, tried, sentenced to be executed, and is currently on death row.

In a 7 to 2 vote, all of the liberal Justices and most of the conservative Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of religious freedom and equality in their ruling. This is a rare display of unity by the High Court, where justices are often split 5 to 4 on religious cases. Voting against the ruling were Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch. Neither offered an explination for their view.

Murphy is a Buddhist, and wants his Buddhist advisor to be with him for support as he is executed. The State of Texas denied his wishes, although it is their policy to allow Christian or Muslim clergy to be present. They gave as their reason that they only allowed chaplains who had first been carefully vetted to be allowed in the execution chamber. They had Christian and Muslim chaplains available, but had not yet vetted a Buddhist chaplain.

The court ruled that prison authorities may not proceed with the execution unless:

"... the state permits Murphy's Buddhist spiritual advisor or another Buddhist reverend of the state's choosing to accompany Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution."

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote:

"In my view, the Constitution prohibits such denominational discrimination. The state may choose to keep all clerics and religious advisors from entering the execution chamber. ... What the state may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious advisor of their religion in the execution room. ..."

"In the future, the state prison authorities have two options when carrying out an execution. ... [They may] allow all inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room; or) allow inmates to have a religious adviser, including any state-employed chaplain, only in the viewing room, not the execution room. Things can go wrong and sometimes do go wrong in executions, as they can go wrong and sometimes do go wrong in medical procedures. States therefore have a strong interest in tightly controlling access to an execution room in order to ensure that the execution occurs without any complications, distractions, or disruptions."

Senior counsel Eric Rassbach, at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty issued a statement saying:

"Religious liberty won today. The Supreme Court made it clear that the 1st Amendment applies to every American, no matter their faith. As we said in our brief to the court, you can't give fewer rights to Buddhists than you give to Christians or Muslims. In his last moments, a condemned man can receive both comfort from a minister of his own faith, and equal treatment under the law."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "List of offenders executed in the United States in 2018," Wikipedia, as on 2019-MAR-01, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. David G. Savaage, "Supreme Court halts Texas execution over Buddhist spiritual adviser," Los Angeles Times, 2019-MAR-29, at:https://www.latimes.com/

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Copyright © 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2019-APR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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