Religion Unplugged

Touch, prayer and the role of clergy at executions

U.S. Supreme Court weighs religious freedom.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear religious freedom arguments Tuesday in the case of a Texas death-row inmate named John Henry Ramirez.

RELATED: Prayer in the death chamber: Supreme Court questions inmate’s demand

Ramirez, 37, wants his Southern Baptist pastor to lay hands on him and pray during his execution. The state of Texas won’t allow it.

Time magazine’s Madeleine Carlisle provides a nice overview of the case.

“The job of a minister is not to stand still and be quiet,” Dana Moore, the inmate’s pastor, tells Time. “Prayer is very important. And the power of touch is real. It’s encouraging. It brings peace. It’s significant… Why can’t I hold his hand?”

In an August interview with New York Times religion writer Ruth Graham, Ramirez took responsibility for killing Corpus Christi convenience store clerk Pablo Castro, calling Castro’s 2004 death a “heinous murder.” (As noted by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Ramirez “beat and kicked Castro and stabbed him 29 times with a 6-inch serrated knife.” He and two female accomplices left the scene with $1.25.)

“It would just be comforting,” Ramirez said of wanting Moore by his side at the time of his lethal injection.

At The Associated Press, religion writer David Crary explains that the “ACLU has a long history of opposing the death penalty and also says that condemned prisoners, even at the moment of execution, have religious rights.”

“Intriguingly, the ACLU’s position in the Ramirez case is echoed by some conservative religious groups which support the death penalty and are often at odds with the ACLU on other issues,” Crary reports.

For more on the case, see coverage by Christianity Today’s Daniel Silliman, the Baptist Standard’s Ken Camp and AP’s Juan A. Lozano.

Read the full column.

This column appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.

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