US Supreme Court 5-4 ruling favors prison’s refusal to allow Death Row inmate’s spiritual counsel of choice.
Thursday night, Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray, 42, was executed by lethal injection without his Muslim spiritual guide by his side. Rather, Yusef Maisonet, Imam of Masjid As Salaam looked through the witness room glass of the execution chambers at William C. Holman Correctional Facilities in Atmore, Alabama.
According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Mr. Ray quoted in Arabic, “There is no God but one God, and Muhammad is his apostle,” after he was asked if he had any final words. Then he pointed is right pinkie finger up. Prison officials pronounced his death at 10:12 p.m.
Although, Alabama law states that the spiritual advisor of Mr. Ray “may be present” at his execution, weeks before, the prison’s warden, Cynthia Stewart told him that their Christian chaplain, Chris Summers, would be the only clergy allowed in the execution chambers.
Documents describe Mr. Ray as a “devout Muslim” since 2006.
First Amendment questions loom in case denying the practice of religious freedom
In response, on January 28, 2019, Mr. Ray filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama saying that Alabama was violating his civil rights. He also requested an emergency motion for the stay of execution.
Here is some of the information presented in Mr. Ray’s complaint:
- The warden and prison cleric refused to provide Mr. Ray a chance to read the prison’s policy detailing the arrangements of the facility’s execution.
- Prison officials planned to exclude “his Imam from the execution chamber at the time of his execution in favor of a Christian chaplain.”
- A Christian minister, even at the disagreement of Mr. Ray, would still be in the execution in the chamber when he explicated voiced opposition
- Rules forbade other religious clerics present
- Officials refused to honor his request for nitrogen hypoxia as the method of his execution that aligned with his religious beliefs
When the the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to temporarily suspend the execution, Alabama immediately sent the case to the US Supreme Court. The ruling ended in a 5-4 decision in favor of Alabama.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued the following statement Thursday night. “For 20 years, Domineque Ray has successfully eluded execution for the barbaric murder of a 15-year-old Selma girl.”
In a phone interview between Al Jazeera and Ali Massoud, government affairs coordinator for the Alabama chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Massoud said, “We maintain that this was religious discrimination because the bottom line is that Christian [death row] inmates are provided with spiritual advisers until the very last moment, and the Muslim inmates are not.”
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