Published on: Friday, March 25, 2022

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court clarified the right of death-row inmates to receive spiritual guidance during execution. See Ramirez v. Collier, No. 21-5592 (Mar. 24, 2022).   

Petitioner John Ramirez is a death-row inmate in Texas.  Prior to his scheduled execution, Texas prison authorities denied Ramirez’s request that his pastor be permitted to “lay hands” on him and “pray over” him during his execution.  Ramirez then sought injunctive relief in federal district court alleging that the refusal of prison officials to allow his paster to lay hands on him in the execution chamber violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment.  The district court and Fifth Circuit denied his request for a stay of execution while his claims were considered. 

The Supreme Court granted a stay.  In an 8-1 opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held that Ramirez is likely to succeed on his RLUIPA claims because Texas’s restrictions on religious touch and audible prayer in the execution chamber burden religious exercise and are not the least restrictive means of furthering the State’s compelling interests. 

Justice Thomas dissented on the grounds that Ramirez’s claims did not warrant equitable relief or were procedurally barred.