Religion and the death penalty collide at the Supreme Court
The order from the high court follows two years in which inmates saw some rare success in bringing challenges based on the issue of chaplains in the death chamber. This time, liberal and conservative members of the court normally in disagreement over death penalty issues found common ground not on the death penalty itself but on the issue of religious freedom and how the death penalty is carried out. Dunham said most state execution protocols, which set who is present in the death chamber, do not mention spiritual advisers. For most of the modern history of the U.S. death penalty since the 1970s, spiritual advisers have not been present in execution chambers, he said. The Biden administration is still weighing how it will proceed in death penalty cases.
No execution: Courts side with inmate wanting pastor present
The lethal injection of Willie B. Smith III was called off Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court maintained an injunction. The state prison system said the execution would not proceed given the ruling. “Alabama has not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy members from the execution chamber is necessary to ensure prison security. Smith had sought to allow his spiritual adviser, Pastor Robert Wiley, in the execution chamber, something the state does not allow. In the past, Alabama routinely put a Christian prison chaplain, who was employed by the state, in the execution chamber to pray with an inmate if requested.
Alabama seeks to be 1st state to execute an inmate this year
This undated photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Willie B. Smith III. It was unclear if the scheduled execution of Willie B. Smith III would proceed late Thursday night. The Alabama attorney general's office in court filings disputed that Smith is disabled and called it a last-minute delaying maneuver. AdIn the past, Alabama routinely brought in a prison chaplain who would pray with an inmate if requested. Smith took no offered meals on Thursday but did have a soda and a bag of potato chips, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose said.
Court stays execution of Alabama inmate
(Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)MONTGOMERY, Ala. – An appellate court has stayed the lethal injection of an Alabama inmate to consider claims that the state failed to give the man, who has an IQ below 75, required assistance with forms impacting the timing of his execution. The court stayed the execution to give a week to consider his claims. The court also issued a separate ruling on religious grounds saying Alabama cannot execute Smith unless they allow his personal pastor in the execution chamber. After Alabama authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, the state gave death row inmates a brief window to select that as their execution method. The Alabama attorney general's office is disputing that Smith is disabled and called the argument an attempt to delay the execution.