The state of Texas has banned all prison chaplains from its execution chamber, days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state was violating an inmate’s rights by not allowing a Buddhist chaplain into the death chamber with him.
The high court last week halted the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the infamous “Texas Seven,” because he wasn’t given access to a Buddhist chaplain. The state only allows prison employees in the death chamber, and only Christian and Muslim clerics are employed with the state. The court declared that exclusion was religious discrimination and essentially gave the state two options: don’t allow any chaplains into the execution cambers, or allow chaplains of all religions.
Texas has chosen the former option. New execution procedures signed Tuesday say that chaplains and ministers may “observe the execution only from the witness rooms.”
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the change is effective immediately.
“TDCJ Chaplain(s) will continue to be available to an offender until they are transferred to the execution chamber. The chaplain will also be present in the viewing room if requested,” said the spokesman, Jeremy Desel.
About a month before he was scheduled to die, Murphy’s lawyers requested that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice allow his Buddhist spiritual adviser into the execution chamber with him, but TDCJ declined. When a follow-up request was sent for any Buddhist adviser to be allowed into the room, the department didn’t respond. In the days before his execution, the lawyers then took the issue to the courts, claiming the policy violated his rights.
This developing story will be updated.