The state had previously banned spiritual advisors from the chamber, following Patrick Murphy’s request for a Buddhist chaplain to join him at his execution in 2019. At the time, Texas only allowed state employees in the death chamber, and the state did not employ a Buddhist chaplain.
After re-admitting spiritual advisors to the death chamber in April, however, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice changed policy and “abruptly added a rule that would bar clergy from praying aloud,” says the Becket brief.
“By a letter dated August 19, it took the position not only that the chaplain would have a ‘No-Contact’ policy, but also a ‘No-Speaking’ policy—which Texas now explains as disallowing any ‘audible prayer’ with and for the condemned,” Becket said.
“Given that focus on history, and the long tradition of audible prayer by clergy at the moment of death, the scope of the constitutional right is clear—audible prayer should be allowed,” the attorneys explained.
Tradition that predates the founding of the United States upholds “respectful, nondisruptive—but audible—prayer at the time of executions,” said the brief. “Such expression was key to both the solace and spiritual help sought by the condemned and the guiding role the clergy sought to provide.”
The state of Texas said that audible prayer in the execution chamber would amount to “disruptive conduct.”
This argument, “fails on its face, and is particularly odd in light of evidence that prayer has been allowed in the execution chamber without incident in multiple jurisdictions, including the federal government and Texas itself in the past,” the Becket brief stated.
Ramirez’s attorneys filed a lawsuit on Aug.12 in federal district court, claiming that the state is violating his First Amendment rights in denying him the “direct, personal contact” of his pastor. The laying on of hands is a “a long-held and practiced tradition in Christianity in general and in the Protestant belief system Mr. Ramirez adheres to,” the complaint stated.
In the 2004 murder of Castro, Ramirez and two women attempted to rob Castro for money to buy drugs. Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times. Castro had $1.25 on him, which the three took.
The women were arrested the night of Castro’s murder, and both were sent to prison in 2006. One of the women, Christina Chavez, was convicted of three counts of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 25 years in jail. The other, Angela Rodriguez, was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of murder. Rodriguez was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole in 2035.
Ramirez was arrested nearly four years later, in February 2008. He was found near Brownsville, Texas, near the border between the United States and Mexico.
(Story continues below)
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Christine Rousselle is a former DC Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. Prior to working at CNA, she was the managing web editor of Townhall.com; she has a BA in political science from Providence College.