Ray wanted his imam at his side when he died, but the Alabama prison where he was staying refused to allow the spiritual adviser in the room, calling it a security risk to host a person not employed by Alabama’s corrections department. Only the prison’s own Christian chaplain would be permitted to witness Ray’s death from inside the execution chamber.
Ray challenged that decision in court. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a stay of execution until it could be determined whether the prison had given preferential treatment to one religion over another, violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court denied the stay and ruled that the execution could go forward. Ray was executed Thursday night by injection. His imam, Yusef Maisonet, watched from behind glass in the next room.
In allowing the execution to move forward, the conservative majority said only that Ray had waited too long to seek relief. The liberals who dissented said Alabama’s policy showed preferential treatment to Christian inmates over those of other faiths. “That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent.
Some conservatives were also critical.
Conservative columnist Bethany Mandel tweeted:
“The state should not play God. But if it does, it shouldn’t deny a (wo)man a way to atone to their God before doing so.”
Seth Mandel, executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine, tweeted:
“As a conservative who opposes both the death penalty and religious discrimination I find this story appalling.”
And Southern Baptist minister Alan Cross tweeted:
“Every time we want the state to favor Christianity over other religions, the result is a loss of religious freedom for all.”
Many religious conservatives backed Trump because he promised to fill courts with conservative judges who support religious freedom. The Ray ruling may uncover just how narrowly some understand that idea. And even if the Supreme Court’s decision in Ray’s case was based on a strict adherence to a rule, the decision may be remembered most for an absence of grace and mercy.