US Bishops condemn decision preventing Muslim man from receiving appropriate spiritual care at execution


On February 7, 2019, the State of Alabama executed Domineque Ray, a Muslim man whose request to have an imam present at his execution was denied by the US Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4. Archbishop Joseph E Kurtz of Louisville, Chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Frank J Dewane of Venice, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, have issued a statement, which reads:

"The execution of Domineque Ray deeply troubles us. The death penalty itself is an affront to human dignity, and the Church has long called for its abolition in the United States and around the world. Mr Ray bore the further indignity of being refused spiritual care in his last moments of life, in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and Alabama law. This unjust treatment is disturbing to people of all faiths, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise.

"People deserve to be accompanied in death by someone who shares their faith. It is especially important that we respect this right for religious minorities. As Pope Francis said during his recent trip to the United Arab Emirates: 'What we are called to do as believers is to commit ourselves to the equal dignity of all.' Let us make this commitment today.

Ray was 42. He was convicted by a jury Alabama in 1999, for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in 1995 when he was 17 years old. He spent the next 20 years on death row while his appeals process worked its way through the state and federal courts. During his time in prison he converted to Islam. On 7 February his execution was halted, but the next day it was carried out.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network Against the Death Penalty commented: "As people of faith, we are deeply saddened by the fact that Alabama would not allow Domineque, a devout Muslim, to have an imam present for his execution…To bar a condemned man's spiritual adviser from his execution chamber is to strip his very last shred of human dignity away from him. Alabama did nothing to uphold a culture of life last night."

Sister Helen Prejean, one of the nation's most prominent anti-death penalty activists, called the execution "wrong in so many ways."

Tags: Death Penalty, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Bishop Frank Dewane, USCCB, Domineque Ray, Supreme Court, First Amendment

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