Texas prisons will no longer allow clergy in the death chamber after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the scheduled execution of a man who argued his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser couldn’t accompany him.
Effective immediately, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will only permit prison security staff into the execution chamber, a spokesman said Wednesday. The policy change comes in response to the high court’s ruling staying the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the “Texas 7” gang of escaped prisoners.
Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates into the room where they’d be executed, but its prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics.
In light of this policy, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas couldn’t move forward with Murphy’s punishment unless his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state’s choosing accompanied him.
One of Murphy’s lawyers, David Dow, said the policy change does not address their full legal argument and mistakes the main thrust of the court’s decision.
“Their arbitrary and, at least for now, hostile response to all religion reveals a real need for close judicial oversight of the execution protocol,” Dow said
Murphy’s attorneys told the high court that executing him without his spiritual adviser in the room would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The 57-year-old — who was among a group of inmates who escaped from a Texas prison in 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including one where a police officer was fatally shot — became a Buddhist while in prison nearly a decade ago.