Ex­e­cu­tion halted over is­sue of Bud­dhist rev­erend

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By David G. Sav­age LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

WASH­ING­TON – The Supreme Court has taken a new and stronger stand against re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion with lib­er­als and most con­ser­va­tives agree­ing to halt a Texas ex­e­cu­tion.

By a 7-2 vote, the court granted an emer­gency stay for Pa­trick Mur­phy and ruled prison au­thor­i­ties may not pro­ceed “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.”

In a con­cur­ring opin­ion, Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh noted that Texas would have al­lowed a Chris­tian or Mus­lim in­mate to have a state-em­ployed Chris­tian or Mus­lim re­li­gious ad­vi­sor pre­sented in the ex­e­cu­tion room.

“In my view, the Con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits such de­nom­i­na­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion,” Ka­vanaugh wrote. The state may choose to keep all cler­ics and re­li­gious ad­vi­sors from en­ter­ing the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber, he said.

But Ka­vanaugh added, “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.”

Jus­tices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gor­such dis­sented from the or­der with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

Thurs­day evening’s or­der in Mur­phy vs. Col­lier rep­re­sents a par­tial re­ver­sal from the court’s han­dling of a sim­i­lar case from Alabama in early Fe­bru­ary. Then, the court by a 5-4 vote re­fused to block the ex­e­cu­tion of a Mus­lim in­mate who said his spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor was pre­vented from ac­com­pa­ny­ing him to the ex­e­cu­tion.

Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan called this “pro­foundly wrong” be­cause it re­flected gov­ern­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion based on re­li­gion. Alabama au­thor­i­ties had ar­gued that only state prison em­ploy­ees were al­lowed in­side the small ex­e­cu­tion room.

The Texas emer­gency ap­peal came as the court has been de­bat­ing the role of re­li­gion in a case in­volv­ing the prom­i­nent pub­lic dis­play of a cross. In a Mary­land case, the jus­tices will de­cide whether the gov­ern­ment has gone too far to fa­vor the Chris­tian re­li­gion. In her dis­sent­ing opin­ion, Ka­gan had ar­gued the Con­sti­tu­tion does al­low the gov­ern­ment to fa­vor one faith over an­other.

The Becket Fund for Re­li­gious Lib­erty wel­comed the court’s de­ci­sion in the Texas case.

“Re­li­gious lib­erty won to­day. The Supreme Court made it clear that the 1st Amend­ment ap­plies to ev­ery Amer­i­can, no mat­ter their faith,” said Eric Rass­bach, a se­nior coun­sel at Becket. “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.”

Mur­phy was sen­tenced to death af­ter he had es­caped from prison and shot and killed a po­lice of­fi­cer.

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