Religious Freedom in State Prisons Inconsistent


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The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision earlier this week regarding the death sentence of a buddhist inmate. Patrick Murphy, a long time prisoner and ten year buddhist convert, was denied the right to a buddhist spiritual advisor’s presence during his execution. According to Texas state law, inmates are allowed only a christian or muslim spiritual advisor in the room. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was one of seven judges to correctly deem this a clear violation of the first amendment.

Why is it then, that an almost identical case was decided in favor of the opposition.  Alabama state law allows only christian religious leaders in the room during an execution, so when Domineque Ray was sentenced to death in an Alabama state prison, he was told that his muslim spiritual leader could not be present during the execution. After appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, the justices decided 5-4 in favor of the state of Alabama. It took just one day for the justices to sentence Ray to death without his imam’s presence.

Why the sudden change of heart? When prompted, the Justices made no real attempt to justify their inconsistencies. Was this a case of islamophobia on the part of the highest court in the land? Not likely. The exact reasoning behind their decision is still blurry, but what is not is the fact that in both cases these laws represent a fundamental violation of the religious liberties the country was built on.

Across every major religion, the end of life on earth represents one of the most significant events an individual goes through. As a Catholic, the sacrament of last rites is essential to my moving on to life after death. As an American, I recognize that this is not only something christians like myself should benefit from, but something that should be granted without exception and regardless of religious preference.

Make no mistake, it was not by happenstance that the bill of rights is in the order that is. Among all the sacred rights established in our constitutions introduction, the opening lines of our countries instruction manual emphatically states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It is difficult to objectively view the laws under which these prisons operate as anything but a vile rejection of our nation’s foremost governing principle.

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