The Supreme Court is suspending the execution of a Texas man over a dispute over pastor access

Execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. CT. The court quickly moved forward Thursday to schedule the case’s arguments for Nov. 1.

Prison policies regarding the presence of spiritual counselors have divided judges in past cases, confronting claims of religious freedom with prison security policies.

John Ramirez argues that prison policy, which allows his pastor to be present in the chamber but prohibits him from physically touching or speaking to Ramirez, violates Ramirez’s rights under the 2000 Federal Land Use and Religious Land Act. institutionalized people, intended to protect religious freedom.

Ramirez was convicted of robbing and murdering Pablo Castro in 2004 after stabbing him 29 times in a convenience store parking lot. He also stole a second victim with a knife and fled to Mexico, avoiding detention for three and a half years, according to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Ramirez has been ministered by the Reverend Dr. Dana Moore of the Second Baptist Church in Ramirez’s hometown, Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Supreme Court will return to the courtroom and hold oral arguments in person

In court documents, his attorney, Seth Kretzer, said Moore can “not pray, speak, read the scriptures, move his lips, or do anything.” Instead, he should “stand in his little corner of the room like a potted plant, even though his notarized affidavit explains that putting his hands on a dying body and vocal prayers during the transformation from life to death- intertwine with the administrations he seeks. to give Ramirez as part of their jointly subscribed faith system “.

“What the respondents are really looking for is to keep a sword of Damocles on Pastor Moore during this execution,” Kretzer said, adding that if Moore speaks, he will be “expelled from the execution chamber.”

Following the court order, Kretzer said in a statement that he “welcomed this fight to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks.”

“The greatness of the First Amendment is that it applies to the chambers of power and also to the hell of an execution chamber,” he said in part, adding that “the State of Texas knows that the its policy is unconstitutional. “

Federal law provides that the government may not substantially burden the religious exercise of an inmate unless the government can prove that it is the least restrictive means of achieving the interest of the government.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed writs in the Supreme Court urging judges to allow execution to proceed and dismiss Ramirez’s petitions.

Paxton said that after the Supreme Court issued orders in related disputes, Texas changed its policy to allow spiritual advisers in the enforcement chamber. Only after that did Ramirez amend his complaint to say that he wanted his spiritual advisor to be able to lay his hands on him during the execution and pray audibly.

“The courts below adequately recognized that prisons have an overriding interest in maintaining an orderly, safe, and effective process when conducting an irrevocable, emotionally charged proceeding,” Paxton wrote.

A divided federal appeals court allowed the execution to proceed, due to the dissent of a judge who said enforcement should be blocked to give courts time to examine claims.

“What is the purpose of allowing a spiritual counselor, such as a pastor, to be present in the execution chamber if that pastor is forbidden to attend to the spiritual needs of the condemned during the last moments of his life,” he said. Judge James L. Dennis of the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals wrote against.

In February, the Supreme Court blocked the execution of an Alabama inmate because the prison would not allow his spiritual adviser to be present in the execution chambers. Judge Elena Kagan, along with her Liberal colleagues, Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, as well as Conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, wrote that while prison security was an overriding interest in the State, the prison could have guaranteed security without banning all clergy. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, would have allowed the execution to move forward, but said in the future it “seems obvious” that states should figure out ways to allow spiritual advice in the execution chamber. to avoid delays in litigation. Neither Judge Neil Gorsuch nor Samuel Alito revealed how they would have voted, but it would have taken five votes to block the execution.

Ramirez’s case takes the issue a step beyond what can be done to a spiritual counselor in the chamber.

The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, a group dedicated to religious freedom rights, filed a writ from a friend of the court in support of Ramirez.

“The right of a person condemned to the comfort of the clergy – and the corresponding right of the clergy to console the condemned – are among the oldest and most recognized religious exercises known to civilization since antiquity,” the Becket fund, Eric Rassbach. .

This story was updated on Thursday with additional news.

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