Around 9:00 PM Central Time on September 8, 2021 – three hours after he was scheduled to be put to death – the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to John Ramirez. The Justices also granted his petition for certiorari, which means it will consider the issues raised in Ramirez’s appeal relating to whether his spiritual advisor can pray aloud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber.
This is the third time since 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court has stopped an execution in Texas at the eleventh hour due to issues involving the presence of clergy in the execution chamber. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has changed its Execution Procedure twice in that time but it continues to engender complaints that its policies are violating the free exercise of religion as individuals face their final moments at the hands of the State.
It is also the third time that Ramirez’s execution has been stopped.
Original post: The State of Texas is scheduled to execute John Ramirez tonight, September 8, 2021. Ramirez was convicted of killing and robbing Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi in 2004. It is the third execution date he has faced in recent years and would be the third execution carried out by the State this year. Ramirez’s request for a stay is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, as is a petition in which he asks the Justices to consider the violation of the free exercise of his religious beliefs by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Keri Blakinger with The Marshall Project explains the issues at stake in Ramirez’s case in this interview with the BBC.
Ramirez requested that his spiritual advisor, Pastor Dana Moore of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, accompany him in the execution chamber. In April 2021, two years after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) removed all chaplains from the execution chamber, the Correctional Institutions Division of TDCJ published a revised Execution Procedure that allows for a TDCJ chaplain or a spiritual advisor of the individual’s choosing to be present in the chamber during the execution. It stipulates criteria that a spiritual advisor must meet and the process he/she must follow.
Ramirez also asked that Pastor Moore be allowed to lay hands upon him and pray aloud at his moment of death in accordance with his religious practice. After these requests were denied, Ramirez filed a federal complaint alleging the violation of the free exercise of his religious beliefs. Earlier this week, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected his appeal over the strong dissent of Judge James Dennis, who questioned “why having a spiritual advisor in the room, but requiring that advisor to remain mute and refrain from showing signs of comfort or religious concern, is essential and the least restrictive means available for the State to carry out the execution.” He went on to write:
What purpose is there for allowing a spiritual advisor, like a pastor, to be present in the execution chamber if that pastor is prohibited from attending to the spiritual needs of the condemned during the final moments of his life, through audible prayer, physical touch, or otherwise?
Texas has scheduled six more executions through November.