SCOTUS Lifts Stay of Execution for Muslim Man Without Imam

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By George Khoury, Esq. on February 08, 2019 2:56 PM

The case of Domineque Ray surprised many people across the country. Ray was convicted of rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, and sentenced to death. And while there may not be too much surprising about a death sentence for rape and murder of a minor, his final appeal strikes a chord with civil rights advocates, regardless of their stance on the death penalty.

Ray challenged the fact that he was not allowed to have a spiritual leader from his faith present at the execution. The state allows a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber, but rejected Ray's request to allow his imam. Initially, the district court struck down Ray's challenge, but on the appeal, the Eleventh Circuit stayed the execution due to the clear Establishment Clause and religious discrimination concerns. Unfortunately for Ray, a five to four SCOTUS majority overruled the stay, and he was put to death.

A Strongly Worded Dissent

Justice Kagan authored a dissent, which was joined by Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer. In the dissent, she explains that the majority "short-circuits that ordinary process-and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument-just so the State can meet its preferred execution date."

Kagan methodically goes through the arguments that weigh against Ray, and dismisses each one. Most strikingly, she explains that the state offered no evidence or explanation as to why Ray's imam could not have been trained to ensure the state's strong security interest is maintained.

Justice Kagan also explains that the Establishment Clause was created to protect against exactly these forms of religious discrimination.

"The clearest command of the Establishment Clause, this Court has held, is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another. But the State's policy does just that. Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion-whether Islam, Judaism, or any other-he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause's core principle of denominational neutrality."

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