Supreme Court Rejects Stay of Execution for Alabama Inmate After Imam Not Allowed in Chamber

The Alabama prison allows a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber to pray with death row inmates, but it refused to let an imam inside.



The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5–4 decision to let Alabama to move forward with an execution after state prison officials refused to allow a condemned Muslim inmate access to an imam in his last moments.

Ruling that the inmate, Dominique Ray, had waited too long to file his petition for relief, the Court's conservative majority reversed a stay on the upcoming execution imposed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appellate court halted the execution Thursday after finding that there was a substantial likelihood that Ray's First Amendment rights had been violated when officials refused to let his imam be present in the execution chamber.

Alabama officials appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court that same day.

The Alabama prison typically allows a Christian chaplain, also a prison employee, in the execution chamber, where the chaplain may stand near inmates and pray with them. But for security reasons the prison does not allow non-employees into the chamber, and it refused to make an exception for Ray's imam.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote that "given the gravity of the issue presented here, I think [the majority's] decision profoundly wrong." She continued (citation omitted):

"The clearest command of the Establishment Clause," this Court has held, "is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But the State's policy does just that. Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion—whether Islam, Judaism, or any other—he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause's core principle of denominational neutrality.

Ray was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl.

NEXT: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal Aims to Eliminate Air Travel

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This was about the timeliness of the petition?

    I would hope they weren't saying the state can force a non-Christian inmate to have a Christian minister in his last moments. However good that may be from the Christian perspective the state of course ought to be neutral.

    1. He had access to an imam right up to the last 3 steps when he goes inside the chamber.
      Only prison officials are allowed inside there, for obvious security reasons.

      As usual, Reason botches another story.

      1. I don't find the security reasons obvious.

        1. I don't think the risk is really security, more that unknown "spiritual adviser" could well try to disrupt the execution or stage a protest in the execution chamber. Certainly there are many who are opposed to the death penalty who would disrupt or interfere with the procedure if given the opportunity. The odds are pretty good that if given free choice of their "spiritual advisers" at some point a condemned prisoner would select someone like that as their personal "spiritual advisor". There is certainly precedent that inmates have adopted unusual religious practices for no other reason than to interfere with the prison officials. The better course would be to ban the chaplain and deny everyone access to any clergy in the final few minutes.

          1. Well good thing the state now doesn't have to explain one damn thing about why they created a unique arbitrary policy for this guy until AFTER they kill him

  2. It's okay to kill him--just so long as no one discriminates against him? If you can't get a stay of execution otherwise these days, you might ask for gender reassignment surgery first. Yeah, it's okay to kill him, but I don't see how we can refuse to give him a sex change operation in good conscience, amirite?

    1. How about letting the execution go forward, then his estate can sue for damages for the violation of his religious freedom?

    2. That's grasping at red herrings Ken. The article is about allowing Christian inmates to have a chaplain in the execution chamber but not allowing inmates of other religions to have a religious guide in the chamber. Other states allow religious guides outside the chamber but not inside, Christian or not. That's not as nice for the Christians, but at least it's equitable.

      The majority here said the petition was not filed fast enough? It sounds like it was filed as fast as possible.

      1. He works for the prison though. Should the government be required to have an employee of every religion on its payroll?

        1. How about the government not pay the salary of any clergy of any faith?

          1. How about you STFU and find another hobby, or just go play in traffic

            1. Struck a nerve, eh? Tony is right though, since the prison obviously can't hire someone to represent every single religion on of their inmates may practice, they shouldn't have any on payroll

              1. How about just no religious guide in the chamber.

                1. The superstitious, gullible, and backward -- Republicans, conservatives, faux libertarians, children of all ages -- like government-funded chaplains. Some of these goobers even claim to be libertarians, but no educated or decent person believes them.

                  1. You should seriously consider buying a gun and shooting yourself in the face.

                    1. Get a load of the number of fucking psychopaths occupying these boards lately. Go back to 8chan where your kind can masturbate to cartoon unicorns or whatever it is that you do.

          2. How about the government not pay the salary of any clergy of any faith?

            This. A thousand times, this.

      2. I need a Priest of Poseidon.

        1. That would be useful for death-row inmates.

          "Stick a trident in him, he's done."

    3. "I want to die as a woman, dammit!"

      It'd probably work.

    4. "ask for gender reassignment surgery first"

      And second. And third. And fourth....

      Why not? If it can be demanded once, what grounds do they have for denying subsequent demands?

  3. Hear ye. The small-government wing of this court has decided that the paperwork wasn't perfectly in order so the state had no choice but to murder you. Have a nice day!

    1. He's had 20 years.

      1. He's had 20 years to file appeals on the merits of his trial and sentencing. He had only two weeks after the prison officials informed him that his clergyman of choice couldn't accompany him into the death chamber. I am very tired of attempts to delay executions with last-minute appeals that could have been filed years earlier, but this time it appears to be _the_ _state_ that failed to make the arrangements clear in a timely manner.

  4. Why couldn't they just allow the Christian chaplain in there instead? The inmate was Muslim, right? His God, and the Christian chaplain's God, is the same God that Abraham payed to, no? The same doood! I don't know how that's a problem? For that matter call the local Rabbi - they could share the inmate's last meal sans bacon.

    1. Yeah, that's pretty much not how religions work

    2. Except Islam regards the Christian belief of the Trinity and Jesus of Nazareth being one of the Trinity as blasphemous and smacking of paganism.

      1. As opposed to the Moon God?

  5. Wow, his victim was younger than the number of years he spent on Death Row.

    1. Well he killed an 18yo and a 13yo boy before he raped and stabbed in the head the 15yo girl.

      He should have sought spiritual guidance before he did all that

      1. Maybe he did.

        1. I didn't want to appear to be anti-Islamic, but maybe he was told to treat the girl as a POW

          1. I don't want to appear to be anti-muslim but murdering and raping seem to be following in mohammed's footsteps

  6. "Ruling that the inmate, Dominique Ray, had waited too long to file his petition for relief"
    ' "The clearest command of the Establishment Clause," this Court has held, "is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But the State's policy does just that '

    How do you write an article like this?

    Those two points are entirely unrelated. For all I know from this article, the constitutionalists on the court would completely agree with the statement given here from the dissent by the judicial authoritarians on the court.

    1. The two factions were addressing different issues! ...

      As is often the case.

    2. Is that a Liberty or Ave Maria legal education talking, buybuydandavis?

  7. State sanctioned executions should never happen.

    To give government this power and trust our justice system this much. I do not agree.

    1. I can see that as a policy argument, but the Supreme court isn't supposed to be where you argue policy, it's where you argue law, particularly constitutional law.

      And the constitutional case for the death penalty is pretty darned strong.

      1. How backward bigoted etc et etc, I bet you aren't even for the Green New Deal, like other real Libertarians here

  8. Ray's attorneys filed a federal lawsuit last week claiming Ray's religious freedom was being violated because the Alabama Department of Corrections would not allow his Muslim spiritual adviser, or imam, to be in the execution chamber. Officials told Ray he would be allowed to meet with his imam up until being prepared for execution, the lawsuit claims, but the imam would have to watch the execution in a witness room with two-way glass. The ADOC also said they wouldn't remove the Christian chaplain who is typically in the execution chamber.

    Bob Horton, spokesperson for the ADOC, said the department follows protocol "regardless of the chaplain's spiritual belief or that of the inmate." Horton said the ADOC protocol "only allows approved correctional officials, that includes the prison's chaplain, to be inside the chamber where executions are lawfully carried out. The inmate's spiritual advisor may visit the inmate beforehand and witness the execution from a designated witness room that has a two-way window."


    1. If the chaplain is in the room regardless of the religion or non-religion of the person being executed, than it seems the state is treating all inmates the same, not discriminating.

  9. "I want my spiritual adviser to be there so he can hold my hand as I'm electrocuted."

    1. And next to me facing the firing squad.

    2. It would not actually be dangerous to hold his hand while he was electrocuted, so long as you were careful not to be otherwise grounded.

  10. So a death-row inmate announces that he's converting to (religion the audience doesn't like).

    He explained: "Better for one of them to die than one of us."

    1. Your hot takes get progressively worse

  11. The case went unsolved for over two years, before Owden talked to police in 1997 after experiencing a "spiritual awakening," court records state. He implicated himself and Ray in the crime, and Ray was arrested shortly after. He was convicted in 1999.

    Owden pleaded guilty to the slaying and testified at Ray's trial, where records state he detailed the "raw brutal" sexual abuse the men inflicted on Harville before stabbing her in the head and slashing her throat. Owden is currently serving a sentence of life in prison without parole at William Donaldson Correctional Facility.

    Previous court documents said Harville's throat was also cut and that when her body was found off County Road 62 by a farmer, the teen's purse with approximately $6 was missing and her underwear was gone.

    Records state Earnest and Reinhard Mabins were shot to death inside their home on February 4, 1994, because they refused to join a gang with Ray and Owden. Owden confessed to the Mabins killings at the same time he confessed to his role in the Harville case. In February 1999, several months before the Harville trial, Ray was convicted of capital murder for the Mabins brothers' deaths and was sentenced to life in prison.

    1. But Allah forgives Dominique Ray for all of that, because Dominique Ray was a good Muslim who drank no beer, ate no pork, and bowed towards Mecca.

      What I want to know is, does Dominique Ray still get his 72 virgins, or does Allah subtract a few, for Dominique Ray not having been properly guided by an Imam in the execution chamber?

      Maybe Allah will have to ask the High Court for a ruling on that?

      Because, you know, Allah - God - Cosmic Caramel Consciousness, and all those Higher Beings, they are subordinate to the SCROTUS and other courts! In short, Government Almighty is the boss of God, and I can prove it!

      How, you say? Well, the courts regularly rule on whether or not your religious beliefs are "sincerely held", or not, whereas I have NEVER heard of God ruling on whether or not your beliefs in Government Almighty are "sincerely held", or not!!! QED!!!

  12. Tony is right - the better solution here would be not to have any clergy on staff at all, and let the inmate choose whatever spiritual advisor he/she wishes before execution, regardless of faith. That way it is completely religiously neutral.

    Of course, the BEST solution would be to get rid of capital punishment altogether. The state does enough taking of human life during the conduct of illegal endless wars, it doesn't need the legal ability to do so via a pretense of justice.

    1. Your reasoned libertarianism will find few friends among this site's commenters.

      1. Your violent self-inflicted death will bring joy to the human race.

        1. So long as you spend the rest of your life complying obsequiously and meticulously with my preferences, like every right-winger, you can rant and whine and whimper all you wish, Jack. Just toe that line, clinger, and muttering bitterly about a half-century of American progress is not only your right but also your proper place in our society.

    2. The place to argue that, though, isn't before the Court. It's before the public and the legislature.

      1. Even when you agree with me, you just have to be disagreeable.

        1. And I bet you think it has something to do with his failings rather than your own.

    3. There was a time (when I first was drawn towards libertarian arguments) that your opinion would have been mainstream around here.

  13. The Prison officials should have just allowed his Iman to enter the room. They were just being hide bound bureaucrats.

    1. They were being Alabama-style authoritarian bigots.

  14. Fucking despicable, and I say that as a Christian.

    There's no reason to deny him religious comfort during his execution other than dirty bigotry.

    1. Which the supposedly principled conservatives on the court upheld. As a constituational law layperson, I'd be interested in an analysis of this decision, and the rational for striking down the 11th Court's ruling.


      He had an imam right up until the last 3 steps. The Christian Chaplain did not go in with him. He was being an asshole (shocker).

    3. This. The excuse mustered by the majority is appalling.

  15. Boo fucking who, does a baby in the womb get an Imam?

    1. What about a woman who's forced at gunpoint by the federal government to give birth against her will?

  16. New policy: only the executioner should be in the death chamber. Problem solved.

    1. That would constitute progress, but it wouldn't solve the problem that is Alabama.

  17. In this case, the left would be perfectly satisfied if everyone were deprived of a cleric. In other cases, they would be just as satisfied if everyone were deprived of their wealth. The left approaches equality the way a hammer approaches a nail.

  18. Why does he even want a stay when 72 virgins are waiting.

  19. Start working at home with Google. It's the most-financially rewarding I've ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour....??.....HEAR>> http://www.GeoSalary.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.