WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a dissent to a ruling that allowed Alabama to execute a Muslim without an imam by his side, Justice Elena Kagan said denying condemned persons their clergy of choice, whether they be Jewish or Muslim, was unconstitutional.
Alabama executed Domineque Ray late Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the stay put in place by a lower court while it considered his plea to have an imam present. The 5-4 decision reflected the court’s conservative-liberal divide.
“A Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites,” Kagan, who is one of the court’s three Jewish justices, wrote, according to The New York Times. “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.”
She called that “profoundly wrong” and said it violated the constitutional ban on establishing a state religion.
Alabama agreed to Ray’s request to not allow its Christian chaplain to be present, and its officials said Ray’s imam could visit with him shortly before the execution and could view it from a separate room. But the officials would not allow the imam to be present in the room, saying that required familiarity with executions, which the chaplain had acquired from his years on the job.
The majority said Ray had waited too long to appeal. Ray was convicted in the 1995 rape, robbery and murder of a 15-year-old, Tiffany Harville.