Texas Bishops support 1st Amendment Rights of Ruben Gutierrez; case pending at the Fifth Circuit

Today, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of death row prisoner Ruben Gutierrez. The brief calls on the Fifth Circuit to affirm the district court’s stay of execution and argues the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) must provide Gutierrez access to clergy in the death chamber under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Mr. Gutierrez is scheduled for execution on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. 

The amicus brief states, “A condemned man’s right to comfort of clergy at his death is a longstanding and fundamental part of the Catholic, and broader Christian, tradition…This right is especially important for the condemned, for whom the final moments offer a unique chance to prepare for ‘our heavenly homeland’ and for pardon and redemption.” (Pp. 3-4, link to amicus brief is below). . 

The Amicus Brief of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops in Support of Ruben Gutierrez can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ycwvrlen 

Last July, nearly 200 Texas faith leaders also urged TDCJ to keep chaplains in the execution chamber. In an interfaith statement sent to top TDCJ officials, faith leaders representing more than a dozen traditions stated, “placing a wall between a prisoner and clergy violates the religious liberty that has characterized our nation since its founding.” 

On Tuesday, Brownsville Federal District Court Judge Hilda Tagle stayed the June 16th scheduled execution of Mr. Gutierrez, stating that, “The Court concludes that Gutierrez has made a showing of likelihood of success on the merits of at least one of his DNA or execution-chamber claims.” Attorneys argue Texas is refusing to allow Mr. Gutierrez to have a Christian chaplain accompany him into the execution chamber, in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The State is asking the Fifth Circuit to lift the district court’s stay of execution. 

Press Release from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops re: their Amicus Brief: https://tinyurl.com/yaftqrf6 
 
The District Court’s Stay Order is here: https://tinyurl.com/ya6nvpyw

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division Memorandum and Order: https://tinyurl.com/yandg3bk

If you have questions about Mr. Gutierrez’s case, please contact Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com or 202-669-3411.