Thursday, March 24, 2022
The Supreme Court ruled today that a condemned prisoner was likely to succeed on his claim that prison authorities violated his religious rights when they denied his request to allow his pastor to pray and lay hands on him in the execution chamber.
The preliminary ruling only means that the prisoner's execution without his pastor is temporarily halted. Prison authorities could, of course, allow the pastor to pray and lay hands, and then schedule the execution.
The case, Ramirez v. Collier, arose when condemned prisoner John Ramirez asked prison authorities to allow his pastor to pray and lay hands on him in the execution chamber before and during his execution. Authorities denied the request, and Ramirez sued, arguing that the denial violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Ramirez sought a temporary injunction halting his pastor-less execution.
The Court granted Ramirez that injunction. The Court held that the prison's failure to honor Ramirez's request amounted to a "substantial" burden on his religious exercise, "sincerely based on a religious belief." Moreover, the Court said that the prison's denial wasn't the "least restrictive means" of achieving its stated interests in denying the request. The Court held that the prison's denial thus failed RLUIPA's strict scrutiny test for actions that substantially burden religious exercise.
As the Court noted, this is not a ruling under the Free Exercise Clause.