Does Alabama Support Religious Liberty?

By moving to bar chaplains from the death chamber, the state has undermined the place of faith in the public sphere.

Comments: 226

  1. Perhaps I misunderstood the writer's intent, but it seemed that Mr. Cross was angling for a Chaplain, any Chaplain to be present - BUT, it would be so much better if it was a Christian Chaplain because then the soon-to-be excited person could pray to Jesus to be forgiven. Not once did the author address the real problem - that Mr. Ray was denied access to a Chaplain of his faith, one who could comfort him in his religion. Religious freedom means freedom to pray in one's own religion, not limited to the religion of those in power. And, by the way, it also means freedom from religion - not being forced to believe in any religion, regardless of the religion of those in power.

  2. @HN I do think you misunderstood. The minister spoke from a Christian perspective, indeed, but was clear in conveying that the prisoner should have his imam, since he practiced the Muslim faith. He ends the piece - powerfully - with “Mr. Ray’s religious freedom mattered as much as anyone else’s. That freedom is part of what makes America great. When it is lost, it is replaced by a sterility and silence that will ultimately drive us apart.”

  3. The intent is clear: Alabama should have respected freedom of religion by permitting an imam to be present at the execution of Mr. Ray. The last paragraph fully establishes that point, if it wasn’t clear enough from the rest of the essay. Don’t try to make this about “freedom from religion” or how religion is a means to wield power. People who believe differently from you should not be deprived of spiritual meaning and comfort on top of the cruelty of facing death at the hands of the state. Your criticism is ungrounded and unfair to Mr. Cross.

  4. I am not religious but it seems to me that this decision to not permit a representative of a person's religious preference at their execution is an terrible idea. I can't imagine a more hurtful thing than to deny a person a last chance for compassion and possible eternal redemption at the moment of their death.

  5. @MBurns Most, if not all people on death row murdered someone. They did not provide that last chance for compassion and possible eternal redemption to their victims. If that is the most hurtful thing you can imagine...

  6. I applaud Dr Cross' argument here but maybe we could go one step further. In a society devoted to the Gospel, as I assume most Alabamians are, the mere fact that the death penalty is considered legal should give one's Christian scruples pause for thought. We are all human and vengeance is a familiar companion when we feel wronged. When a loved one is murdered it is only natural to feel hatred and extreme anger towards the one who is guilty of the crime. But, the belief that murder is OK in any instance is the thing that taints us all. It is not to preserve the life of the guilty that we should fight for but the innocence we share in a society directed towards doing good. It is to protect ourselves from becoming soiled with murder is the reason we should oppose the death penalty. And when the death penalty is gone, this hand wringing over which chaplain gets to visit a 'dead man walking' becomes a moot point.

  7. I find this argument disingenuous. The presence of an imam, rabbi, priest or minister is not required for God's mercy. Only being truly repentant is required. It is nicer if a person of the cloth is there for support, but not required for forgiveness. The Old and New Testament say something like 'God knows what is in a person's heart' as I imagine the Koran does as well. If someone facing death is truly repentant, God knows and if he is not, God knows that too. The presence of a man of the cloth is not needed for salvation or forgiveness, or are you trying to say without a man of the cloth, God will not pay attention?

  8. @Jose Of course, you are correct that one can be repentant without the company or intersession of a person of the cloth. However, that really misses the point. As one heads to death, the presence of a person of similar faith extending focused compassion upon the condemned person, is the least that can be done for the person. I oppose the death penalty on moral and practical grounds. Until it is abolished, the least we can do is have empathy for the final moments of the life that is about to be extinguished. The history of Alabama pretty much demonstrates that it is not a place of many decision makers with empathy for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden or the repentant.

  9. @Jose That is exactly what Catholics believe. If the priest is not involved in confession to bear witness for humanity then absolution can not be given. Don't know if any other religion has that requirement or not. The theology isn't the point anyway. I don't believe there is a god but, I sure don't want Christians being comforted and Muslims not.

  10. The pastor's point is well taken, but he misses the forest for the trees: No truly religious or moral person can support the death penalty at all.

  11. @Election Inspector Lots of very religious people all around the world, and of many different faiths (including Christian), very much support the death penalty. But I agree with you regarding moral people.

  12. @Election Inspector The philosophy behind the death penalty is that there are some crimes that are so heinous that the only sufficient punishment is death. Atrocities like the Cambodian killing fields or the Holocaust come to mind as extreme examples. For those crimes, many (myself included) would find it hard to consider that justice had been done if their perpetrators were sitting in jail cells for the rest of their lives. Perhaps you feel differently and believe that there is no point at which a crime becomes so severe that the death penalty is appropriate. However, almost all societies have had to determine that line. It is not immoral to do so. I would argue that it is demeaning to the value of human life to NOT determine a line. I would agree that in many American states the bar for when the death penalty is used seems far too low. I believe that it should be reserved for much more sickening and heinous crimes then it is currently used. My primary qualm with the death penalty is practical rather then theoretical. Our judicial process has systemic problems, particularly in regards to race, and many decisions are reversed based on new evidence. If we can't rely on judical decisions it probably is best that our punishments be reversable as is possible. While you can't give a falsely convicted person back their time, you can make reparations. You can't give someone back their lives.

  13. @Election Inspector Because the DP requires absolute perfection in its implementation to avoid ever executing an innocent person, and no system run by human beings is capable of that.

  14. Either everyone's spiritual leader should be allowed to be with the person facing execution, or no spiritual leader should be allowed. Alabama has chosen the latter solution. In one way it upholds separation of church and state, but in another it denies the person facing death, no matter how heinous the crime, compassion and it denies the person the right to practice his or her particular faith, as was the intent of the founding fathers of this country. Let me be clear, I feel the death penalty is cruel and should be abolished. It is however, still standing in Alabama, and the very least the state could do is allow the person whose life the state is taking some small comfort. I have always thought the death penalty was ironic. A life is being taken because a life had been taken. Two wrongs........

  15. What's notable is how many of those who say nobody needs any spiritual leader at all to be executed will turn around and claim that one can't start the school day or operate law courts or install anyone in political office without the presence of clergy, Bibles, and public prayers. If the final minutes of a condemned person's life can be spent alone, praying silently and receiving whatever salvation they may get without any help at all, then surely people who are in much less dire straits can manage in silence, without public prayers or the activity of religious leaders on the public's dime and the public's time. Anyone who argues we can allow prayer in schools or the Ten Commandments on public property ought to be equally supportive of clergy present at executions.

  16. Sorry but I just can’t muster any sympathy for individuals on death row who may not be permitted to have a spiritual advisor present when they are executed. In fact, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than for a person who committed a capital crime to die all alone. If someone who is sentenced to be executed sincerely wants to repent, he/she will just have to see to it that that is taken care of before, and not on, the execution date.

  17. @Jay Orchard That is a defensible position (although one that I disagree with). But you're missing what's disturbing about this episode: that Alabama disagreed with you and felt that providing religious support was appropriate as long as it's Christians being executed, but changed its position to agree with you when it was a Muslim being executed. Whatever the right answer is, only a state government that has profound contempt for the constitution would change it under the circumstances of this case.

  18. @Jay Orchard Since God forgives people, we dont have to, thank God. Some people think this is what Jesus meant.

  19. @Jay Orchard Well, I'm an atheist. But it seems to me that sinners - which presumably include people on Death Row - would be in greater need of spiritual support than those folks (are there any?) who don't sin.

  20. There are two lessons to be learned here: one to the lawyers handling capital appeals, and one to the State of Alabama. As to the lawyers, the Supreme Court's action tells us that this conservative court will technical means of speading up capital cases. The Court lifted a stay on the grounds that the application for its removal could have been filed earlier, implying that the action of Ray's attorneys was nothing but a stalling tactic. So lawyers, file when a cause becomes known, and don't wait for the "needle to be inserted" before filing. As to the State of Alabama, we learn that it is Christianity of nothing, if that is the choice presented. This is a vile avoidance of the establishment clause of the Constitution. The State of Alabama and all of its agents should be ashamed of themselves, and if the swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, they are in violation of that oath.

  21. @Dirtlawyer > So lawyers, file when a cause becomes known, and don't wait for the "needle to be inserted" before filing Kagan's dissent makes it pretty clear that that is exactly what happened here. The delay between cause being known and and filing was just a few days.

  22. @Eric Hamilton; Ray had five days notice that a minister of his choice be allowed to be with him in the death chamber, even though a Christian minister employed be the state would have been available (see dissenting opinion of Justice Kagan. Under these circumstances, a lawyer would not have time to to prepare and file the necessary petition in five days. The majority of this Supreme Court values speed to the point of bloodthirstiness.

  23. Did all the Supreme Court except Kagan agree with the speed of this action?

  24. All my life I have been in government meetings where a prayer was offered, and the prayer always ended "in Jesus' name, amen." This happened even when I knew there were employees or other people present who were of faiths other than Christianity. Not to mention the people who were not religious at all. This aggressive Christianity has always made me uncomfortable, and sometimes angry. On occasion I would go to management and object to this practice, but my complaints were never listened to.

  25. @Madeline Conant It's very offensive. I wish I had been there to support you.

  26. @Madeline Conant As a non-Christian I completely agree. It's offensive for a country that is supposed to separate church and state.

  27. @Madeline Conant I served several years on a small town board from the town's inception. Each meeting was opened with the pledge and a prayer, through which I gritted my teeth. When I was elected president, when I prepared my first agenda I simply did not add the prayer. While I personally am not comfortable with the rah-rah patriotism the pledge has become and never say the phrase 'under God' which was added well after the pledge was first used, it is a civic statement of unity and the sentiment still holds and so I kept it on the agenda. But I was unwilling to continue the prayer without an argument. Apparently no one felt like making one.

  28. I both agree and disagree with the minister on this one. While I fully agree that accommodations should be made if someone requests the presence of a spiritual leader on their deathbed, regardless of their religious beliefs, I think that if Alabama is unwilling to employ non-Christian chaplains in their corrections system, or is unwilling to change the rules regarding who is allowed in the execution chamber, then the only correct alternative that complies with the Establishment Clause is to exclude all religious support from the execution process. As many commenters have pointed out, this conundrum could also be avoided by abolishing the death penalty altogether.

  29. I'm presuming Mr. Ray was afforded choice of a last meal. But choice of a spiritual guide at the very end was a security risk? Not so much. There is so much subtext going on in this opinion piece and case in general; from religious discrimination, religious superiority, lack of common decency and mercy (as taught in all major religious texts), to just being a decent human and not lowering one's self to the level of the prisoner by being petty and vindictive. The Supreme Court showed a very pro-Christian bent (by behavior that was un-Christian) with this decision. Rather disturbing, if you ask me. Alan Cross asks the wrong question. Alabama isn't anti-religion. It is exclusively pro-Christian (whatever than really means these days). Rather, is Alabama anti-non-Christian?

  30. As a devout(?) atheist and former resident of Alabama, I read this commentary with great interest. Mr. Cross is clearly on-target in his observation that prohibiting all clerics from attending members of their faiths at the time of execution does not solve the problem. The State, in a pretense of simple solutions, acts in a fit of pique. While it is certainly a de jure solution with the appearance of impartiality, the de facto outcome is still ant act of State endorsement of a specific religion: as a Christian cleric is unacceptable, there will be no clerics to attend you as the State takes your life.

  31. Canada last execution was in 1962. Here in Quebec most of our fellow citizen anti religion which is continuously reflected in our laws. We are 8 million people who are mostly secular humanists. Montreal is the city described by Twain as the city you couldn't throw a stone without breaking a church window. I am a Jew who has examined religion for most of my life and I know my brother Jesus would be more at home in Quebec than in Alabama.

  32. @Montreal Moe Another of your wise and humane contributions. Thanks.

  33. Quebec was the location of the most recent homicidal atrocity against Muslims we have seen in North America, perpetrated by Alexandre Bissonnette. Quebec has also passed ludicrous “anti-sharia” laws in a fit of bigoted Islamophobic hysteria, along with other Canadian provinces. The pastor’s point is an excellent one, in which he attempted to stand up on behalf of people of all faiths. Attacking Alabama instead of responding to his point is always easy to do, because the complex reality of how the rest of us are not really all that different than Alabama is hidden from sight.

  34. @Montreal Moe Australia's last execution was in 1967. The death penalty will probably never return here.

  35. Many Evangelical Christians believe as part of their faith that only Christians (and by no means all of them) can be saved, and that it is their duty to spread the good word of salvation everywhere they can. For this faith, a secular republic is a compromise with evil, or at best with the fallen nature of man, and their failure to spread the word. It puts the maintenance of secular peace above the war against sin and false belief. Christians who accept the secular republic in theory seem to try to get more wiggle room for faith, their faith, in practice.

  36. @sdavidc9 ~ Indeed, many Evangelical Christians believe that whatever translation of the Bible, which started as oral stories and creatively written letters, translated and interpreted into various languages for centuries, is THE absolute truth. As such, I don't think us Episcopalians, who allow female priests and elect gay Bishops, are well received. Even though as Christians we also read and talk about the Bible a lot.

  37. @jhanzel During his campaign, talking to an evangelical group, Trump maligned Hillary's religious work: "There's nothing there". Ostensibly he was accusing her of being a hypocrite, but what he really meant was that Methodist religious work does not count because non-evangelical Christians are heretics. Of course the evangelicals knew exactly what he meant.

  38. Oh good grief! Let’s not try to make some convoluted argument in favor of some perverted Southern interpretation of “Christian.” Racist and unfeeling and un-Christian— call it like it both looks and is!!! This state won’t ever acknowledge its underlying prejudices— visible to all who might be observant—since well before the Civil War.

  39. This is a good solid article by someone working on the frontlines of Christian ministry. And as such it gives one pause to reflect. Typically, arguments for “religious freedom” have become little more than conservative evangelical doublespeak for Christian Dominion in society. And one worries that the Supreme Court decision has just such a false freedom in mind. But as this article rightly professes, the mainstream of the Christian Church—based on the witness of the Bible—has always been that the freedom of CHRISTIANS is precisely gathered up into, and protected by, the freedom of ALL. The First Amendment is precisely the guarantee of that freedom in its REFUSAL to establish a church in America, while protecting freedom of ALL religious expression. Yes there is a solid Christian argument to be made here against capital punishment. But the issue before the SCOTUS was otherwise, and their decision, while against a Muslim, was no friend of the Christian gospel.

  40. If there was an Imam who was willing to be in that room when Mr. Ray was executed, then they should have allowed it. I refrain from even relating to the legal arguments, some revolving around the timeliness of filing the request. There would have been no harm in allowing the request, except perhaps to the psyche of the Imam and the denial seems petty and unwarranted.

  41. Execution is solely the purview of the State, and it is the conclusion of judgements based entirely on secular laws. The particular faith observed by the prisoner has nothing to do with either the crime nor the punishment. There is neither a reason nor a right for a religious representative to be present.

  42. @Norman McDougall The point is that Alabama create such a right and cannot carry it out in a discriminatory manner.

  43. @Norman McDougall While I agree with you in principle, what michjas said is true. If you are doing it for Christians you have to do it for everyone. So now, no one is allowed religious succor. The last remnant of the milk of human kindness removed from the death penalty.

  44. @Dicentra- Does anything prevent the person being executed from having religious support immediately before entering the execution chamber?

  45. "Religious liberty is inconvenient. It sometimes requires that we work together to accommodate the religious practices and needs of various groups." In the past few days, in conjunction with this case, I've read comments to the effect, "America provides fulsome religious liberty... for Christians." Something was terribly wrong with that SCOTUS decision, because the justices are supposed to follow the constitution, which clearly states that all religions are to be treated equally under the same circumstance. No religion is to have greater weight than another, none can be banned, and of course, none can ever be "established" as the state religion of our secular republic. All that is theory, because in practice, we've heard many Republicans assert the US is a Christian nation, and we certainly see plenty of religious bigotry against particular faiths. Mr. Ray was wronged three times: by the Supreme Court (how much time does it take to allow his imam to be present in the death chamber??); by the state of Alabama's rush to execute; and by the prison that accommodated his religion for years until the time he really needed it: at his hour of death.

  46. @ChristineMcM This case is not about equal treatment of religions. It is about security in the prison context. A Presbyterian minister violently supposed to the death penalty would also have been excluded.

  47. @michjas I believe you are trying to say that allowing only prison employees into the death chamber, the reason the prison denied his request for an imam, is a matter of prison security? If that is the case you are making then the prison has only two logical choices, ending the practice of religious attendants as they did or hiring a religious attendant of each and every faith represented in the prison's population. Both are extremes that are unnecessary. There is no reason why the state can't keep a vetted list of religious attendants of all faiths on file for use in such situations.

  48. @ChristineMcM Ironically, religion is MOST inconvenient for those of us they choose to harass, persecute, and diminish in the eyes of the law and the culture. At the end of the day, anything that diminishes the role of religion in the public sphere makes life better and safer for the rest of us.

  49. Mr. Cross means "the state has undermined the place of" *religion* "in the public sphere. "Faith" does not mean religious faith alone. Anyway, what business does the state have promoting religion? There's something about the Amendment that comes before the Second .... But on Mr. Cross's main point, I agree that a person being executed ought to be allowed a religious aide (a pastor or whatever) in the last moments, if desired. Or, any person who would provide an equivalent function, say in the case of an executed atheist. The state of Alabama was wrong in a way that regressive powers often are, not limited to Southern states.

  50. @Thomas Zaslavsky The state of Alabama AND the Supreme Court were wrong on this one. That makes it a much bigger issue. Especially, since they decided the case on the technicality that he waited too long to ask for an imam. WHAT? How would he know he would have to ask for one if he had had access all along? I can't even get my head around the cruelty involved in that one.

  51. @Thomas Zaslavsky In Quebec we have banned religious symbols from our legislatures, our schools, government offices, city halls, our hospitals (with moderate allowances as our hospitals were sectarian a short time ago),and our court rooms but most of all we have banned any kind of religion from our executions. We do not countenance any kind of religion at any of our executions.

  52. @Montreal Moe In Canada, the death penalty is not used, so we do not have executions. And yes, Canadian criminal law applies in Quebec. The laws banning religious symbols noted apply only in the province of Quebec and are open to constitutional challenge.

  53. In administering a prison, safety and security come first and foremost. If the warden has reasonable fear that a decision could cause danger, that fear should not be ignored. Prisons are not unlike battlefields. And to give lay observers the power to override decisions of safety professionals charged with saving lives is bad judgment, plain and simple.

  54. Saving lives ... oh the irony.

  55. @michjas: First, I have a hard time imagining what danger a religious leader might be in an execution chamber. Second, the State of Alabama made it clear that they would allow Christian pastors there, until someone made a stink about the obvious religious discrimination.

  56. @michjas Come on. Christian ministers have been ok all this time, but not Muslim imans?

  57. I’m not religious at all and often find cynical and hypocritical the claims of people of all faiths and all countries that their actions are compelled by some or other version of god. But seriously, how hard could it have been for Alabama to grant the wish of a condemned man to be comforted in his moment of death, especially if the same officials had granted him access to his faith while he was on death row? It seems so pointless and, if you believe in that sort of thing, so un-Christian.

  58. @Mike Iker “how hard could it have been for Alabama to grant the wish” Not hard at all! The inmate’s Imam was there all along at the execution; he was allowed to sit on the other side of the glass enclosure. This Imam, who had been permitted to offer his ministry all those years at the prison while his congregant was alive, was deemed to pose a “security risk” if allowed to stand beside him at his execution.

  59. The god in question can’t hear a plea for mercy or forgiveness without human intervention?

  60. @Vanessa Hall Indeed - you've pretty much covered the only point that matters.

  61. I don't think we should have a death penalty. If we do, however, there is no way to reconcile putting someone to death with religious liberty. I fail to grasp the point of the article. Does having a particular kind of religious figure at the execution somehow make it better? I think not.

  62. @Paul R. S.--It might make it better for the convict who is to be put to death.

  63. @Paul R. S. According to that minister, having the opportunity to beg for forgiveness from god makes it better. Maybe it does for the condemned, can't say. And they get killed so we can't ask them. I think that instant forgiveness is a christian/catholic thing. Not sure any other religion has it but, I don't know.

  64. @Paul R. S. The death penalty is wrong but It’s not what you think, it’s what the person be executed thinks.

  65. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have gone to some lengths to prevent the use of their products for State-sponsored homicide. Although their lack of cooperation will not stop executions, we can appreciate their unwillingness to be complicit. The role of clergy in executions is not precisely analogous to that of drug companies, but any degree of participation is troubling. While the subject arguably is entitled to whatever consolation s/he can receive (especially since a non-trivial percentage are later exonerated), participation by clergy serves to legitimize the killing.

  66. @Harvey S. Cohen I've always had the feeling pharma companies do not want to be involved because it would generally hurt their sales, not out of concern for the death penalty.

  67. Alabama is reasonable here. If there are safety concerns with having an untrained religious person in the execution chamber, then having no one is not unreasonable. There is no requirement in any religion to have a religious officiant at your death. They can have last rites before entering the chamber. For that they should be able to have whatever religion the prisoner follows, without safety issues. I don't see how it's essential to have a religious figure present. There is no religious figure present for most deaths. And for the deaths of those who these prisoners killed - there was no one.

  68. @Susan. Safety concerns? Really? When the same Imam had been allowed in the jail to interact with the prisoner throughout his stay? No, it’s not a right to have a spiritual advisor there in the last moments. It’s merely the humane thing to do when the last request is so simple and reasonable.

  69. I agree it’s the humane thing to do to allow a prisoner a religious person at his execution. However, execution itself is inhumane, so is it any surprise that a state isn’t concerned about humaneness in the execution chamber?

  70. @SusanStoHelit Alabama must have thought it was important as they had procedures in place for the Christians. I live in Alabama an for the most part no thought is given to the idea that there may be people that are not Christian.

  71. This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court is simply cruel. What possible justification could there be? None except cruelty and harshness.

  72. @Robert I do not believe in the death penalty any longer, having been convinced it is applied to minorities and the poor far more than others even taking into consideration they do more crime. I imagine the state's reason was this criminal played only by his rules to the detriment of society and that was over. It was heavy handed and unnecessary at the time of death, a petty act expected of a high school vice principal of discipline.

  73. @Robert It wasn't the Alabama Supreme Court, it was the US Supreme Court. You know, the one with a majority of Catholic Justices.

  74. @Robert- He’s being executed. Why make a religious ceremony of it?

  75. The minister's argument only makes sense if he is arguing that the state offer its tacit endorsement of the authority of religious leaders by accepting their right to be present at the execution. The prisoner is free to make whatever amends he or she wishes to make with his or her god (s) without the presence of a "leader." There is an arrogance about many religious leaders that they don't see themselves when they insist, under the guise of freedom of religion, to be allowed to participate in state functions at their own discretion.

  76. @frank Except for some religions, specifically Catholics if no other, a priest is required to be present to provide forgiveness for your sins.

  77. I find this not only unconscionable but also chilling. And from now on, just to keep this imam from giving a crumb of comfort to a doomed man, no one gets to have a spiritual advisor present? You'd think Alabama would not want to appear to be disregarding a person's religious freedom, even a person who has no personal freedom. Shame on that state, and the court(s) that upheld this.

  78. @Susan Susan, yes, it is unconscionable, chilling and unspeakably cruel to deny a human the comfort of a representative of his or her own faith tradition as they approach death. It is especially chilling that this decision comes from the highest court of this nation in complete disregard for the establishment clause of the Constitution. Prison staff could have provided the security training needed within a few days' time to the imam, but arbitrarily said no. Would a Jewish prisoner have been denied his or her rabbi? As disgusted as I am with Alabama officials, I am especially concerned about this decision coming from the Supreme Court. Yes, is is absolutely chilling and does not bode well for future court decisions. Our freedom is at stake.

  79. How about a non-denominational chaplain? Equal general opportunity for everyone, even those that aren’t truly religious...obviously won’t satisfy everyone but neither should what has happened since the Muslim prisoner made his request. I don’t know whether that would truly have helped solved Alabama’s short-term legal issues, but at least it would have maintained some option for everyone vs. no option for anyone.

  80. @Wen What is a non-denominational Chaplin? He or she carries a Torah, Koran and Bible (the big three) aand pulls out a few quotes as needed? Maybe the people in this country who profess to believe in religion need to live to what they preach and take it seriously or stop the entire sham. If you believe in any kind of decency and fair play, the ma should have an Imam there.

  81. @Wen What would be the training/affiliation of a "non-denominational" chaplain?

  82. It's my understanding that chaplains do not have a stake in a religious flavor, but are available as spiritual counselors for each of the big three monotheistic clubs. Maybe a state prisoner is not in any position to be fussy toward personal preferences on faith-based beliefs.

  83. But if the prison system only has Christians in their chaplain positions, something is wrong. I find it hard to believe that any state would have an entire job title ONLY filled by Christian people. There were no qualified applicants of other faiths? Really? Not a single rabbi or imam in the entire state has a prison chaplain job? Hmmm. Sounds like some diversity training is needed for whoever hires chaplains.

  84. Reverend Cross, you appear to be on the side of the angels on this one, but my perception of many Christians, especially Evangelicals, is that they define religious freedom as their freedom to force everybody else, regardless of faith or lack thereof, to live by their religious tenets. Alabama state officials appear to have either forgotten, or conveniently ignored, the Golden Rule - which even I, an atheist, do my best to follow. Hopefully, you can convince your fellow Christians to do the same.

  85. @Bob Bunsen: I think the US would be wiser to adopt the Hillel version of the Golden Rule: which prescribes what NOT to do to others, specifically anything that one would abhor having done to oneself if one were in the other person's circumstances. The Hillel version is much easier to reciprocate than the more widely stated "Do unto others" version.

  86. “As our nation grows more diverse and issues of religion become more complicated, we will see more such cases, in which the drive to stifle faith does not always come from the obvious enemies of religion” Who exactly are the “obvious enemies of religion” in the United States that the author refers to in the last line of this paragraph? Seriously, I feel that this is a fairly important question. Are the “obvious enemies of religion” those that advocate for a WALL of separation between church & state (Jefferson himself I believe seemed to endorse a fairly impermeable barrier between the two entities)? Are “the social Democrats” the enemy of religion? The Democrats? Gays? pro-choice folks? It appears the the state most clearly became an “enemy of religion” once it abandoned religion in the death chamber completely. Does that truly make the state an “enemy of religion?” Must the state provide those being executed a religious guide in the actual chamber? What about those that decide to claim their religious beliefs require them to have someone at their side after death until the moment of burial? The readers here must know that it matters not whether any established religion shares, endorses, etc. any particular “religious belief” for it to be held as “valid.” So what must the state accommodate in the name of “religious freedom” and/or “non-interference” with the practice of religion?

  87. @Karen This "enemies of religion" talk is a Republican propaganda campaign to make evangelicals think they are in danger and need Trump's protection. The proof is that I work for a normal (non-evangelical) church and I never hear talk about "enemies of religion".

  88. I had to parse it out from your last paragraphs, but I applaud your support for providing a spiritual guide of choice in the death chamber. You'll need to make a stronger, clearer pitch next time.

  89. It is likely that Alabama was angry that this prisoner was at the last moment interfering with its established process and likely that they acted quickly and spitefully without thinking. Even Alabama should be able to figure out that the right solution would have been to "qualify" a representative from each major faith, and not just Christian. And allow a prisoner to have present whichever one of them the prisoner selected or to choose to have no one present. Alabama will thank about it and move to that position, I am sure. It would be absurd not to, as well as damage further the reputation of Alabama among the states.

  90. I believe the state of Alabama moved in an untimely fashion. They should have already had a person from all faiths which believe in repentance. To have a man waiting on death row should have pushed someone's button to make sure there was a representative of his or her faith ready to attend to situations just such as this. To then react, for legal reasons, that now nobody can have access to a final conversation with a person representing their faith, just prior to execution, is somewhat disgusting, even to someone such as myself; who believes there is no single 'correct' religion recognized by our higher power. If they, the state, don't believe in redemption, how can they believe in rehabilitation? If they don't believe in rehabilitation, they should not be allowed to house anyone who is not sentenced to life without parole. Others, who will be released back to society, should have every chance to rehabilitate themselves as to not be released into the civilian population without learning the tools they lacked; which put them in prison in the first place.

  91. Mr. Cross seems to me to be more concerned that the absence of a christian chaplain will prevent the last minute christian rescue (saving) of a wretched soul than providing genuine religious liberty for all condemned inmates. In other words, his religious liberty concerns come across as contrived; a necessary evil to be tolerated in pursuit of his primary motivation.

  92. @Alan R Brock You are so correct. Mr. Cross quotes Christian scripture about how "Jesus" forgives up to the last minute.

  93. As certain states confront the reality of genuine religious liberty -- specifically, that a state simply cannot protect the liberty of only one religion but must extend it to all -- expect more of this kind of stuff. Once faced with such Constitutional demands, the Christianists will destroy religious liberty in order to save it. Spite and anger is what drives them, and they do not want to recognize any religion except their own. Christianists do not actually believe in religious liberty. Their mendacity on this point knows no bounds.

  94. 242 years ago this edict would not be accepted by our founding fathers. Will Rome burn again? Will the 21st century be the slow death of a once great Democracy? So grateful I'm 76 years old and not 16 years old. Sorry for the Monday morning "downer" but the USA in not as great as it once was, how awful. Am I still allowed to pray to GOD for hope, or is that no longer available?

  95. @Broz, has anyone told you that you cannot pray or practice your religion? The problem as many have pointed out repeatedly is that problems occur when the deeply religious believe their beliefs are the only true beliefs and that the secular government MUST follow their dictates. My belief is that any religious group should be allowed to practice their religion or not as long as it is legal (FLDS marrying 15 underage girls) and does not impose their beliefs on how I live my life.

  96. @Broz So Broz you can pray anytime you like. The bible does not state that you need a building or another person to pray in or with. people do not seem to remember that you do not need symbols to pray.

  97. Unfortunately in this Country, the religious right argue for the freedom of religion, only if it is their religion. Freedoms of religion and speech are only free to choose and speak when they are what others agree with.

  98. This case illustrates the loss of trust in SCOTUS many Americans feel. Religious Liberty is a MAGA buzzword, a red herring in many Fox News tirades, and an excuse for discrimination in the Colorado baker’s position, Kim Davis’ dereliction of duty in her County Clerk Office and various other extreme Christian controversies. But time and again, when given the opportunity to come through for the true meaning of the concept - that no religion is favored under the law - SCOTUS punts. The absurdity of a death row inmate who asked for the execution procedures in writing and was refused then losing this case along partisan lines (5-4) on the grounds that he waited too long to ask for this accommodation is so disheartening. Alabama prison officials say it is a security issue - that only employees are allowed in the execution chamber and they only employ Christian chaplains. Going forward, rather than extending this controversy, they propose not allowing any chaplains in, denying everybody the comfort of a last confession or a final prayer or blessing - whatever rituals or sacraments accompany death in their religion. The greater injustice is being overlooked! WHY are there only Christian chaplains to begin with? Certainly the state of Alabama can hire itinerant non-Christian chaplains who can circulate throughout prisons in their state. Providing only Christian chaplains is the original sin in this case, not the execution chamber procedures. SCOTUS failed us.

  99. @Joanna Stasia Agreed that the greater injustice is overlooked--the injustice of yet another poor black person, denied competent legal and mental health services, being put to death after 24 years of incarceration. The issue of who is permitted to be present to comfort and hold the hand of the victim of a stacked legal process and cruel judgement is truly trivial in comparison to the torture of imprisonment for life, followed by official, bureaucratic, cold blooded execution.

  100. The framers of the constitution worked towards creating a nation in which religion was a personal matter, and in which faith had no “place in the public sphere.” This has been undermined by those whose hyper-religiosity compels them to try to compel others to believe in the same magic they believe in.

  101. @Edward C Weber More by those who want to exploit those with hyper religiosity - enter Reagan.

  102. @The East Wind And Trump and the GOP. Although I think Trump is more of a tool of the Religious Right.

  103. I don't believe Trump has any beliefs of any sort except to enrich himself beyond counting.

  104. Evangelicals confuse me. It is always interesting to see them talk about religious freedom but insist that the secular constitution makes this their version of a Christian nation, insists that we teach creationism in addition to or rather than science, promote doctrines that harm such as being gay can be cured or women should not use contraceptives, and want to post the 10 Commandments in public places as if that action will cure society.

  105. @David Bible I think the problem is that when one is convinced he or she ALONE has the "truth", by definition anyone NOT agreeing with that "truth" is wrong and is in error. Does error have a right to exist? Persons favoring the enforcement of their "truth" in the public sphere to the exclusion of another person's "truth" obviously assume that error has no right to exist.

  106. @David Bible Evangelicals are not trained in logic; it would undermine their "faith" (gullibility). I read a blog where an evangelical argued with a biologist on evolution and claimed that he had "refuted" the scientist. Judging by his account in the blog, he did not refute the scientist at all. He probably didn't know what the word meant.

  107. Given that the armed forces, including those of the US, have already addressed the issues of paid chaplains of any and all persuasion within the ranks, the suggestion that the convicted person can not have one iota of comfort in their last hours because there are only Christian chaplains available strikes me as both specious and a denial of basic rights of religious practice. It also adds support to the argument that capital punishment is both cruel and unusual punishment and deserves to be abolished. Succor and comfort in dying but only if you are a Christian? Nothing but prejudice.

  108. "The result is a loss of the transcendent, and a creeping sense in the public square that we are actually all alone, left only with our fear of the other" But we are all alone, left only with the love for each other, and the injustice isn't the lack of a chaplain but the taking of a life, including Mr. Ray's.

  109. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this article. The author is obviously a commendable Christian; I would certainly like to visit his church. I was struck many years ago by a story on NPR regarding the controversy of prayers before football games in Texas. This too was an argument about "religious freedom." They interviewed a very passionate, very intelligent young woman, a student at a high school, who gave an impassioned plea for having a prayer - a Christian prayer make no mistake - before the game. She gave her many reasons for having such a prayer, including this idea that's in the constitution about freedom of religion. I'll never forget the next moment when the interviewer (and I love NPR for this very reason) asked the next logical question - what if a Muslim student wanted a prayer said before the game? The girl paused and said, very softly, "I don't think that would be right." There you have it: "religious freedom" in our country. This is the same "slippery slope" that teaching the Bible in schools will fall into, something else that is in vogue right now. Do you want it taught, warts and all? Or do you want to proselytize and convert? You can't have it both ways.

  110. @Willie734 And on the topic of prayers before football games, never forget Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6: Be not like the hypocrites who like to be seen praying in public. Which a few verses later transitions into the very well known "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . "

  111. The real problem here is that the phrase "religious liberty" is a euphemism that is used by the religious right to really mean Christian Theocracy allowed at the state level - an affront to what real religious freedom is supposed to be constitutionally. It should come as no surprise that it would not be applied equally to someone that is non-Christian.

  112. I am a Christian, a life-long member of the Anglican Church. If I am in a country where the majority of people are of the Muslim faith, I still pray in my Christian tradition even if it was difficult to find others of my faith to worship with. I would hope that wherever I go in this world, I have the freedom to worship as I choose. This was denied to this person who was facing death in Alabama because accommodating his faith was "inconvenient" for the state. That was shameful and didn't represent the best of this country. People of the Muslim faith are numerous enough that accommodations could have been made.

  113. @njbmd Even if there were one Muslim, we are founded on Religious Freedom, so I see no reason that a Muslim would not be accommodated. Is not that Muslim entitled to Religious freedom as well, even is he is the only Muslim in this country?

  114. It was deliberate and cruel discrimination, plain and simple.

  115. Party lines votes from the Supreme Court are always troubling, but this one is a real stinker. Even the conservative partisans on the court with their allegiance to supporting the death penalty couldn't have avoided seeing the blatant first amendment violation, they weaseled out of it by claiming the application wasn't timely so they didn't have to look. Kagan's dissent tears that apart, the inmate didn't know the rule until the warden told him and his application was issued five days later. No wonder confidence in the court is dissipating. The conservatives on the court used a very dubious technicality to give the ruling they wanted.

  116. I don't know whether the constitutional guaranty of religious liberty requires the state to provide a convicted murderer access to a chaplain moments prior to his execution. For all I know a requirement that the state pay for a chaplain might violate the Establishment Clause. But offering the condemned man some degree of spiritual comfort in his last moments strikes me as the decent thing to do. So why not? We don't need to act under a constitutional imperative to show a little compassion.

  117. I believe this is the operative sentence in the article: "The state had accommodated his faith during his many years on death row, and he believed that accommodation would continue at his execution." And not at his death? This is bizarre...

  118. It's good that Pastor Cross thinks Muslim and Christians should have equal access to chaplains. But what this letter is about is really something more, which is less clear. Pastor Cross is really after accommodating what he calls "religious liberty." This is a vague term, and Pastor Cross seems to want to take advantage of that vagueness to interpret it very broadly. Yet the right to swing your religion ought to end where it hits someone else, and this issue nowadays affects far more people than the sad number on death row. Is it o.k., on religious grounds, to deny contraception coverage to people? Is it o.k., on religious grounds, to teach high schoolers that homosexuality is wrong?

  119. I think we have been is a similar path before. I recall when marriage equality was declared the law of the land Alabama tried to pull all kind of gimmicks, including taking the government "out of the marriage business", trying to do away with marriage licenses for everyone.

  120. As an irreligious person who believes only in eternal moral value of the Ten Commandments, I cannot see Alabama and the rest of the Bible Belt becoming anti-religious. The latest decision surrounding the execution may be a sign of the State becoming more fundamentally and intolerably Christian. It is going back to the days of Wars of Religion and bilateral burning at the stake of the heretics, viewed as such by those in power who were convinced that theirs was "the only true faith".

  121. Thanks for speaking up, Rev. Cross. But near the end you say this: "We may find it easier and cheaper simply to remove religion from the equation. That approach is a terrible mistake. " Wouldn't it be cheaper (and more in line with things Jesus used to say) to do away with the death penalty instead?

  122. I think your time would be better spent ending the death penalty rather than on assuring that a chaplain is present when someone is executed. I believe the commandment is "thou shalt not kill". It is not "though shalt not kill unless a chaplain is present"

  123. @JS I don't recall any footnotes in the Ten Commandments. I always assumed "Thou shalt not kill" would apply to government entities as well as individuals. Therefore, what are clergymen doing in a death chamber in the first place. Shouldn't they be outside, protesting the sin about to be committed by the state employees in the name of the state?

  124. Great article except the real problem is that people like Mr. Cross voted for Donald Trump and we now have a Trump Supreme court. They are the ones who threw the First Amendment and religious liberty out of the window, because it was a black American Muslim. White evangelicals put Trump in. This is only the tip of their reaping of the whirlwind.

  125. @GregAbdul except he didn't. He has been a very strong critic of Trump. He's a very good follow on Twitter.

  126. @Angela you are right! Just checked him. But as a black American, I see way too much normalizing of open white hate in America today. Clarence Thomas is bonkers. There is no "security concern" here. This man wanted to die not bowing to white Jesus, and Alabama had to show him and the world they are still Alabama. I really hope he is in for the big fight of ending white Christian intolerance and hate, especially in the Deep South.

  127. @GregAbdul. This article isn't about Trump. It's about a doomed man's desire to have spiritual comfort. There are other opportunities to rail against Trump's and the GOP's machinations.

  128. As a man past 80, I am reminded of another "practice" with those dying, namely the use of "chaplains" in hospitals. I have been with terminally ill friends when the chaplain (in my experience - the Christian Chaplain) comes in, uninvited, to "pray with" the person dying. Most, at least, have the courtesy to ask if they are wanted, but often, also out of courtesy, few tell them no, even when that is their desire. For example, a dear atheist friend, suffering from terminal cancer, who had just been told they were stopping treatment, was subjected to such a visit (in my presence). (When I say they have the courtesy, I don't mean they have the real courtesy of asking Before they enter, only after.) He didn't stop the unwanted visit and told me later he endured it rather than risk some unwanted tension. My "living will" says " No chaplains, please". Maybe that will work.

  129. @Brian. That is your right. Personally, I have come to welcome these visits; when my loved ones were ill, I found these visits comforting. Good thoughts were always welcome.

  130. @Keen Observer-- You're right--good thoughts are always welcome. Mumbling about God, no.

  131. @Brian Good for you! When my mother (an atheist) was dying we were able to keep a, frankly very pushy, baptist minister out of her room. However, for days afterwards I received calls asking me if I wished to pray with him - over the phone yet! A week later, I received a bill from his church for "religious counseling". Needless to say, I returned his bill, unpaid.

  132. Candidly Alabama acknowledged that its application of the death penalty has nothing to do with religion. That was always a fig leaf for public support, a bald faced lie. The death penalty has always been about revenge, retribution, and a way to cement the hard line reputations of prosecutors and judges. Support for it will wane when the public gets tired of the appellant costs of defending it.

  133. When 'Mr.' Ray committed the murder of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville, he surrendered his right to religious freedom. I applaud Alabama's decision to end the practice of having a spiritual adviser in the death chamber. Did Tiffany Harville have her spiritual adviser present during her death?

  134. @Curt K The issue is the denial of Mr. Ray's fundamental religious rights. If you want to discuss his conviction, then you must also discuss the fact that he was severely mentally ill; that throughout his childhood he was abused, including suffering sexual abuse; that while he did not qualify as mildly-mentally-handicapped, he certainly would have had difficulty functioning in many settings; his conviction was gained based on the testimony of a participant in the same crime, who did not face the death penalty; the death penalty phase of Mr. Ray's trial was handled by an inexperienced lawyer and virtually no evidence was presented on his behalf. There were no witnesses asked to testify to the violence he had experienced throughout his life; his so-called defense attorneys never asked for any testing to be completed to document his neuropsychiatric disabilities (that was done during the post-conviction relief efforts, which is way too little, too late); his attorneys also declined money to have any independent investigation of the crime and the other defendent's role in it done. And those are just the problems which don't specifically address the systemic issues of race in the justice system. So, Curt, let's first agree that Mr. Ray was a human being who spent his lifetime being denied the basic rights one would want for their child, before acknowledging that he did something awful and yet still had the Constitutional right to an imam at the time of his death.

  135. @Curt K--You're wrong. Convicted criminals are still protected by the constitution. They do not lose their first amendment rights.

  136. @Curt K No, he didn't. And if you're a person of faith, you should take the pastor's message to heart.

  137. Personally, I think all religion is a fairy tale. Obviously, I am an atheist. I do not, however, seek to impose my opinion on anyone else. That having been said, to the extent that Pastor Cross agrees that Mr. Ray was denied religious liberty, I compliment him for his concept of religious freedom. Ultimately, we should not forget that religious liberty includes freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

  138. Let’s start with a historical fact. The first treaty negotiated by the United States, under the Constitution, by John Adams, the Vice President of the United States, agreed to by the first president of the United States (under the Constitution, there were a few others under the Articals of Confederation), and approved by the Senate, clearly states the the United States is not a Christian country. These are our Founding Fathers we are speaking of here. Given that, the denial of a minister of the appropriate belief structure, and the offer of substituting a Christian minister, is an affront to the stated aim of not establishing a religion that is in the First Amendment, which, due to the Fourteenth Amendment, also applies to states. Alabama was clearly in violation here. If they provide consoling to Christians then they need to provide consoling to every faith. This would also include Secular Humanism (which is my belief structure), which does not believe in a God, but in the believer following of a moral philosophy. Note, SH does not include anything about a belief in an afterlife. That consolation provided to a Secular Humanist is just as valid as any provided to a Christian or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist. This is really what the First Amendment entails. Such consolation, if it to be given at all, must be appropriately given to all, regardless of faith. So, Alabama has to choose whether or not to provide consolation or not, and they seem to have chosen “Not”.

  139. I think Alabama may have just warded off a 3-ring circus. Let's say that Mary kills someone. She is found guilty. She is sentenced to death. On death row, Mary petitions - "on time", of course - for a pastor from her religion to be there before she is killed. But the problem is, she observes a religion for which the State cannot find a pastor. She claims there are plenty. They claim there are not. Or maybe her "pastor" is an African elephant. Or a blue whale. So does Alabama deny her the right to practice her religion during her death? Or does it ship in an elephant? We don't need that circus. Though I confess it would have been entertaining on the news.

  140. @Human You realize that this has nothing to do with imams, right?

  141. I lived in Alabama for a few years. As a New York (non practicing) Jew I was very taken aback when the first question many people asked was what church you went to - and to discover how important the answer was to these people. Even very educated, well traveled people just could not understand that other people did not believed in Christ. Or how overbearingly offensive they were being in that assumption. As a side note, a Catholic friend's daughter was once told she wasn't a 'real' Christian. I have been to what are described as ecumenical services there and in VA and the only ministers invited to offer prayers are from different Christian sects. Even when there are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu attendees (think High School graduation celebrations). It is a very deep, ingrained cultural belief and will be hard to dislodge. How unfortunate SCOTUS chose not to abide by the real intent of the Constitution and lead by example.

  142. @eag, there are interfaith communities, even in Alabama, although they are not always more evolved than the rest of us. I was a guest at the UN millennium peace summit with representative of dozens of world religions. I attended a session on conflict resolution. The first speaker took so much time that there was only enough left for two more speakers. Several made a dash for the microphone, and the resulting melee taught me all I needed to know about religious solutions to conflict.

  143. Rather than debate who should be available for religious consolation in the death chamber the good pastor could lament the crime of judicial murder. I saw no evidence of Christianity in his commentary.

  144. Alabama would rather have no religions (in the death chamber) than recognize folks who are not Christian? Is that how religious freedom works? Might work if you expand it to all aspects of government.

  145. Christianity’s promise of eternal salvation in return for last minute repentance has encouraged every kind of irresponsible behavior, from mayhem to murder, for the last two thousand years. Let us hope that the removal of priests and ministers from the execution chamber diminishes, however slightly, the appeal of capital crime.

  146. For some reason republicans have forgotten all about the whole 'separation of religion and state' thing. Let's remind them in 2020.

  147. Thank you, Reverend, for standing up for freedom of religion in America! I wish all evangelical pastors would do the same.

  148. It does seem to me that one of the side effects of religion is to keep people apart from one another. Live and let live is a foreign concept to religious thought.

  149. I don’t see why anyone about to be executed can’t have a spiritual adviser on hand for support. They don’t have to be on staff at the prison, but come in maybe a day before and then during the execution, and then go. Seems to be a simple solution without stepping on the Constitution or violating something else.

  150. The State of Alabama arbitrarily and falsely maintained, in contravention of the federal Constitution’s Establishment Clause, that having an imam present with Mr. Ray for his final earthly moments in the death chamber would present an impermissible “security” issue. Now, just as arbitrarily it is also disallowing Christian clergy from being present in this chamber. Perhaps the State fears what havoc a minister could create by viciously wielding a wood or metal cross hung around his, or her, neck as a weapon. Where does its distinguished jurist, Judge Roy Moore, stand on this issue?

  151. This is a powerful statement and I thank Dr. Cross for making it but the truth of the matter is, the death penalty itself is un-Christian, immoral and the literal opposite of being "pro-life." It rejects the entire notion of redemption, which is what the New Testament is all about. Instead of banning chaplains from the death chamber, they should ban the death chamber itself.

  152. Religious liberty only exists for Christians. Millions of Americans, most of them Republicans, will not accept the construction of a Mosque in their neighborhood, or Muslims in any legislature, or permitting a successful candidate from being sworn into office holding the Koran, or having a Muslim teach in their public schools. They are intolerant of anyone wearing traditional Muslim clothing. They often openly express their hatred, or at the least, their complete unwillingness to accept anyone of the Muslim faith. They repeatedly claimed Obama was a Muslim because they believed it was one of the worst things they could say about him! Many Americans, perhaps even a majority, believe that we are one nation under God and that God is a Christian God, not a Jewish God, or Muslim God or any other God. Why will virtually no Senator or Congress person say he or she is not a Christian or even acknowledge that he or she does not attend some Christian church? SCOTUS is the ultimate protector of religious freedom- the people certainly will not do so. If SCOTUS fails the freedom is lost.

  153. And SCOTUS failed!!!

  154. @Disillusioned, the grater irony is that the Christian god, the Jewish god, and the Muslim god, as any halfway competent scholar can tell you, are the same god with differing cultural appurtenances and names applied.

  155. I find this whole situation to be a nightmare of compounded ironies. No Imam allowed at a state sponsored execution because no Imam is on the prison payroll. The Supreme Court refusing to rule on a constitutional right, or delay an execution, because the application was made too late. A Baptist pastor complaining because he sees this as a threat to his own power, but unconcerned with the morality of state sponsored execution. This entire incident can be charitably described as depraved.

  156. Everything about this case should make everyone, especially devout ‘Christians’ uncomfortable. Is executing a prisoner really such an emergency that we can’t hold off for a few weeks or months? This is the end of a life. Is there so little flexibility in the system? I’m amazed this is the first time this has come up. And the cold hearted decision to throw this out due to process error- that the prisoner should have made the request sooner is just sickening. If there’s any process that, by definition, there is no learning curve because people only navigate it once, it’s the path of one’s own execution. That this decision was taken in a conservative Christian state and facilitated by a series of essentially Christian courts should make all Christians reflect on the nature of mercy and grace. That the response to this incident was the removal of all Chaplains from the chamber is, to me, evidence that these people would rather make their religion less accessible than accommodate other religions. To my mind- not a Christian philosophy either. This stinks from bottom to top.

  157. @Leigh waiting maybe would cause the staff to miss a golf date.

  158. The technical legal arguments are irrelevant here -- a smokescreen to hide the state's bigoted antipathy to a particular religion. If the state is going to murder one of its citizens, the least it can do is to honor the victim's wish for the solace of religion in the final hour.

  159. As long as someone can request a pastor or imam or whomever at their side, then that is fine. To make the default a Christian and to have a Christian there no matter if requested, is unconstitutional. Alabama has actually done the right thing if they have indeed taken away the automatic presence of a pastor. having stated tis, they should have honored this man's request -- it smells of discrimination.

  160. Certainly, Mr. Ray should have had access to his chosen religious priest or adviser. However, the Jesus-and-the thief episode told by St. Mark might be interpreted differently. What it might teach is that there need be no "middle person" (No disrespect to priests intended. They certainly fill a great human need.) I thought that Christ's teachings tell us that there is a direct communion between humans and their God. I want to believe that Mr. Ray received what he prayed for to his God, as he drew in his last breath.

  161. The Supreme Court accepting Alabama's argument that the Imam was a security threat was outrageous, given that he was on the other side of the glass during the execution. They were scammed and citizens who are capable of analysis and critical thinking expect the same of the Justices. All of them. But what is most chilling is that this decision is the first step into a Christian theocracy, that the people who did not vote and who were swayed by propaganda allowed the Heritage Foundation and those of the same ilk to destroy the separation of Church and State.

  162. This may well signal the end of the US Supreme Court as a model of justice and respect.

  163. Religious pastors and the other shamans of medieval life can offer succor and support behind the glass partition like other family members. They can interact with the victim's family and see the pain and horror as someone that robbed them of any remaining peace in their life are executed. There is no good reason for a religious representative to be side by side with a vicious killer any more than an excuse for his mother to be there. Just in passing - perform a miracle like turning water into wine and I might re-think my opinion - but I really don't expect to re-thinking anything.

  164. Will these people enjoy seeing another human die without succor? Such is the hypocrisy of religion.

  165. The decision to cause someone to die bereft and embittered is a dreadful travesty. Should we so treat a human individual that if he had found 'salvation' or some equivalent at a prior point in his or her incarceration that such a moment is repudiated in a moment of despair? Have we not caused someone to stumble? The security risk argument is so transparent as to be ludicrous. Do you know of a true spiritual guide who, like Paul and Daniel would not take on chains if only to accompany a congregant? This is not just capital punishment. It is revenge, pure and simple.

  166. @Richard Albert, Adherents of the death penalty probably don't want to take the chance of someone getting sick when they see it applied. Just too embarrassing.

  167. While I both sympathize and absolutely agree with the Pastor; how does he not take umbrage at the very concept of a death penalty in the first case? If you want a convenient and cost saving solution, there is an easy way out; abolish the death penalty. Certainly, Christians of all people should should be vehemently anti-capital punishment. Not only did Jesus speak out against the practice but their symbol, the cross is literally an implement of execution. The disconnect between many American Christians and the message of their church is painful.

  168. Once again, a place which screams that there’s a war on religion chooses to deny it to someone who isn’t like them. Thank you Pastor Cross, it may be too late, and it’s their own fault.

  169. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by THEIR Creator..." Not "MY" creator. Not "OUR" creator. The very foundation of our nation is being chipped-away, bit-by-bit.

  170. @Thomas Payne Without taking on the main theme of this piece, your argument that this is the 'foundation' of our country is false 1)The "Creator" mentioned is not the Christian God of the evangelicals, the words were written by Thomas Jefferson, who was no orthodox Christian (his pet project was rewriting the bible to take out all the anti semtism and tribal bigotry and edited text to fulfill the agenada of early chuirch fathers). That creator is likely the creator of the deists, not the fire and brimstone, evil God of the evangelicals. 2)The words you quote are from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, which makes no mention of God or a creator. 3)The Declaration of Independence, furthering what I wrote in 1 above, is a document of the enlightenment, that rejected the theocratic notions of God, the God that controlled everything, that men should fear, and thus the Creator in that document was the God that gave the universe life and gave people the right to be free, not the God of the church or God help us, the fundamentalists.

  171. "Thou shalt not kill". Seems the state and the author missed this point as they pressed forward with killing the inmate.

  172. No other info on the rule that people at execution must be state employees? Is it a law, rule, warden’s personal order? My guess is the prison could care less who this convict had as his adviser, but it was not going to stop the execution because it did not have his choice on the roster. Instead of hiring every possible person, investigate changing the rule. It will probably involve having the adviser sign away liability and also face some kind of penalty if he or she disrupts the execution.

  173. From what I read about the Supreme Court decision the majority said the man to be executed waited too long to request a minister of his faith. How is that it is never too late to stop talking to the police without a lawyer, but there is a time requirement to request a certain minister be at their death? Those justices who voted in the majority did not give further explanation. What does this mean for cases in the future? Do they intend to actually set those timelines or was this a hint to Congress to do so? Congress needs to address this issue.

  174. He is a convicted criminal. Once in prison, the rules change. The learning here: plan ahead.

  175. @Michael Blazin Alabama had no rule regarding time limits to request a minister of your faith. They had a policy of only having a Christian minister of their choosing. The Supreme Court did not rule that the convicted person is not entitled to a minister of the person's faith, only that he asked too late.

  176. I think it is funny that any religious person believes their god will forgive them for murder simply because they believe. It shows just how delusional religion is, and how much it is just a way for a person not connected to reality to calm their fearful mind. It's a trick they play on themselves so that they can operate without cowering in the corner from fear of death. As for Alabama, I believe for them that the ability to be cruel while doing it is part of the joy of killing someone. Why have power if you can't be cruel. It's most of the point.

  177. @Chris, I agree with you, and I think that this applies to many death penalty supporters, and to supporters of punishment versus rehabilitation in general. The larger issue is the ever present struggle between church and state for the sole power of life and death over its subjects. The state wishes to be the sole arbiter of who may die ...and how. So they support the death penalty as well as resisting physician assisted suicide, and legal abortion. The church, while now denied the power of summary execution (most places) still reserves the right to claim an oversight position in state sanctioned execution, offering divine absolution where social absolution is no longer available. With or without benefit of clergy, its the cruelty of the death penalty that we need to address, not who gets to be there when it happens.

  178. Rev. Cross displays an admirably expansive definition of religious freedom. Unfortunately it is one to which far too many politicians from places like Alabama do not subscribe. To them, the First Amendment only applies to Christians, preferably Christians who equate conservative politics with morality and vote accordingly. Indeed, it is now commonplace to hear Republicans openly proclaim that the United States is, or should be, a Christian nation in law as well as dominant practice. Under these circumstances it's not surprising that some would rather deny condemned prisoners the solace of any faith leader during their final moments than allow a few to have an imam at their side.

  179. @Richard: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" applies to every belief held solely on the basis of "faith" without substantiation.

  180. The solution is to do away with the death penalty. It is applied differently in the various states, with conservative states using it far more often—especially for minorities— than more progressive states. We’re all the United States, and punishment for crimes should be applied equally.

  181. @BG: This is one of the most profound inequalities of the law in the US.

  182. While it's nice to see a member of the Xtian clergy take on Xtian exceptionalism, this is a very kid gloves treatment of the issue. "Religious liberty is inconvenient. It sometimes requires that we work together to accommodate the religious practices and needs of various groups." No. It always requires that, or it isn't liberty. It's a buzz phrase that thinly veils what "religious liberty" really means in this country - the freedom for Xtians to force their religion on the rest of us.

  183. @MarkN And, it is not just Christians, but a specific type of approved Christian, depending on the region. In Alabama, it is not Catholics or Mormons who are privileged but evangelicals (or "born agains").

  184. I realized I'm kind of a timid stranger here as I saw and heard things that confuse me but appear obvious to many others. For instance, I don't play golf because I never got past the first question: why? On the other hand, I got past what appear to be the confusing, counter-intuitive subtleties in the genius of Jesus' gentle justice when I tried it and was amazed to find that it works! That was my first glimpse of the inherent Kindness of the Divine Sense of Humor that takes us far less seriously than we take ourselves. That ultimately exposes the great comedy of the pitiful arrogance that thinks it can outsmart reality. The most joyful and instructive part of sharing the image of our Creator may be revealed in the sense of charm and loving amusement we experience when observing the confidence of our toddler's innocent mistakes. I suspect that is the source material of many of our elder's wisdom.

  185. This whole situation has been widely misreported and misunderstood. The issue was not whether the imam would be present at the execution, but whether he would be in the execution chamber or the visitors' room. The State of Alabama is understandably cautious about who is actually in the execution chamber and might interfere with the execution. Since they would not want just any cleric in the execution chamber, they have decided to have no cleric present in the chamber. Thus the one cleric vetted and trained to be in the chamber, a Protestant, will no longer be there.

  186. @James G. Russell There's no misunderstanding at all. If a State is going to allow only one denomination, it must allow them all. But no State should be entangling itself with religion in this way at all. If any prisoner wants to see clergy, that's what visiting hours are for.

  187. @Sequel: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" was intended to whack the nose of the camel of religion when it nudges the tent of public policy.

  188. @James G. Russell Will the Protestant no longer be allowed because religious favoritism has been exposed?

  189. “The result is a loss of the transcendent, and a creeping sense in the public square that we are actually all alone, left only with our fear of the other or clutching at cold efficiency for a sense of control.” Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.

  190. "...undermined the place of faith in the public sphere." About time. "Faith" in general is dogmatic--closed minded belief, regardless of evidence. God-story faith is dogmatic belief in a reality behind all experience. Not unlike theoretical physics, except lacking in predictive and explanatory power. Science created the cell phone/computer/internet age. God stories had nothing to do with it. Besides, there are thousands of them--often based on ancient folklore and superstition. They can't possibly all be true--since they contradict one another. Allowing faith based belief to determine public policy is allowing myth to do it. That's the path to the Dark Ages. It was Paul who sold faith (pistis) as a virtue outranking hope and charity instead of irrational belief. He was selling faith and hope as tickets to Heaven. They turned out to be tickets the Church Political power--which then sold tickets--called "indulgences"--thus bypassing charity and good works. So much for faith in public policy.

  191. @Michael Kubara, your dogmatic certainty is reassuring. "God-story faith is dogmatic belief in a reality behind all experience. " Actually, it's a dogmatic belief in a particular reality' "Not unlike theoretical physics, except lacking in predictive and explanatory power." But sharing the not infrequent inaccuracy of such predictions and explanations. "t was Paul who sold faith (pistis) as a virtue outranking hope and charity" I think the ranking goes, the greatest of these is charity. (or love, as is currently fashionable.) Other than that, I totally agree with you. Oh... except, "Science created the cell phone/computer/internet age. God stories had nothing to do with it. " Why do you suppose God created silicon? P.S. I'm speaking as an agnostic who deplores the hold of religion on culture in general.

  192. "...a loss of the transcendent, and a creeping sense...that we are actually all alone, left only with our fear of the other or clutching at cold efficiency for a sense of control." Poor guy. Mr. Ray murdered three teenagers. I wonder how they felt knowing their last wishes were to be denied.

  193. @Stephen is the death penalty revenge? are we not supposed to act better than the murderer?

  194. He had a trial and long appeal process. They had neither. We acted better than he did.

  195. @Lisa D There are varying theories of punishment, some of which emphasize restitution (what you call "revenge") more than others. Revenge is typically swift, while justice is slow...by design. This man sat on death row for 24 years after raping and killing a 15-year-old on one occasion and murdering a pair of teenage siblings on another. (I venture to guess that Mr. Ray's life lasted longer than all three of his victims combined.) He was afforded every opportunity to appeal his sentence, which is infinitely more opportunity than his victims ever had.

  196. "We may find it easier and cheaper simply to remove religion from the equation. That approach is a terrible mistake. It does not produce more efficiency and unity in our society. The result is a loss of the transcendent, and a creeping sense in the public square that we are actually all alone, left only with our fear of the other or clutching at cold efficiency for a sense of control." Or we could stop believing in fables and fantasy as a way to explain the world.

  197. Interesting question... EXCEPT "Religious Liberty" is used by way too many CALLING themselves Christians as a way to perform illegal discrimination. The "I'm not going to do my job because I object to someone's lifestyle." Liberty means you can PRACTICE your religion but NOT use it as an excuse to violate laws. That out of the way, no reason at all the man should NOT have been able to have a minister of his faith in there with him.

  198. Alabama is wrong in their decision regarding chaplains. The prisoner, Mr. Ray, deserved to have his imam visit with him. As far as having the benefit of a chaplain in order to confess sins, an intermediary isn't required for that purpose.

  199. It is always hard to get past the grotesquery of the Christian blessing of state sponsored revenge killings but if you can deal with that the details here make sense. Having only a Christian pastor at the end allows the condemned every chance to repent and join what the state views as the "right" side. This speaks to the need of those involved to uphold their sense of religious righteousness and control to the very end and says little about grace or forgiveness in the broadest sense.

  200. I oppose the death penalty because of its finality, its lack of deterrent effect and its cruelty that demeans human life in the name of society. But was Alabama's refusal to allow an imam into the "death chamber" an attack on Islam and its subsequent banning all clergy from the chamber as a general attack on religious freedom? I'm sure Alabama has the administrative ability to weed out any clergyperson who might try to disrupt the execution. That said, neither the facts in the news story nor the op-ed demonstrate that Alabama's decision to ban the imam's presence inside the room was motivate by hostility to the Muslim religion, given the prison's last-minute request. Alabama's apparent decision that, going forward, no clergy will be allowed in the death chamber smacks more like short-sighted, thinking than a conscious assault on religious rights. Rather than spend a few dollars to have contracted clergy ready to minister to any prisoner at the time of execution, Alabama has taken the cheap way out -- satisfying no one but those who want the prisoner to experience the maximum pain and suffering allowed. I didn't think that any state could outdo the cruelty of execution itself, but not only has Alabama done it this time it has guaranteed that other condemned persons will likely get the same treatment.

  201. What Alabama's decision reveals is the hatred inherent in the death penalty. The state's decision and the Supreme Court's response makes capital punishment even more heinous, more cruel, more inhumane. While Pastor Cross's comments on religious liberty are of value, one can only wonder where the Catholic Church is on the matter. Clergy clamor against abortion, but say nothing in response to this abortion of adult-life and human dignity.

  202. Just so you know, the official position of the Catholic Church is that human life is sacred from conception to natural death. Which would exclude capital punishment. Which is very inconvenient for the pro-birth lay movement within the Church, which focuses entirely upon preventing abortion and says nothing at all about capital punishment. It's another case of "cafeteria Catholicism", which is quite maligned by conservative Catholics... until there is a Church position THEY disagree with.

  203. A while back I lived in Atlanta and had occasion to drive back and forth to Birmingham from time to time. After crossing the state line on Interstate 20 I always noticed the big billboard proclaiming "Jesus is Lord over Pell City [Alabama]." That's right, no Allah, no Odin, no Rama, no Changing Woman, not even God the Father. It was all I needed to know. That's my most enduring memory of Alabama and its people.

  204. I agree with you, sir, and I am a non-believer.

  205. You committed a crime so heinous that you’re on death row ? In the time that would be wasted in attempting to save your own wretched soul, you can spent those minutes remembering the innocent souls you destroyed... No sympathy here....

  206. By still having a death penalty, the USA is ironically more aligned with select Muslim nations than the rest of Christendom.

  207. How difficult would it be to provide a Muslim clergy for a person to comfort them before that person is executed?

  208. Mercy and paradise. Heaven and Hell. Only one of these four concepts exists, and that one, mercy, only in the rarest and most minute of amounts. Death is inevitable, of course, no matter how it arrives or is delivered. Heaven and Hell are fantasies, not physical places or nebulous states of being. Paradise is what a person says it is, so "Paradise" may, in a contemporaneous sense, exist, if only for brief, episodic periods. Mercy is a human construct, therefore imperfect at best. But back to Death. What is Death? What does it feel like? Dying is a process that may or may not be painful. Insisting that the result of dying --death-- is the binary choice of Heaven or Hell is as far being merciful as it is possible to get. Death is the utter absence of awareness and every one who has ever slept has experienced what Death "feels like." Death is that state of dreamless sleep when there is no awareness of sound, temperature, physical sensation and, most importantly, of time and the passage of time, essentially utter absence of a "self." Now the thought of that may be disquieting to threatening to terrifying to an individual in the here and now, but that feeling will pass in less than a fraction of an instant. If punishment, revenge, is the desire, the goal, the death penalty fails to produce the desired result. The presence of any minister at the time of an execution is an attempt to assuage the public's guilt as much as it is to provide comfort to the one dying.

  209. Thanks, I needed a good laugh to start a Monday. Alabama? Freedom of any kind? Hahaha! Of course not! Alabama is a Mean State that hates the poor and certainly anyone not white enough (meaning 100%). This is one case in an ocean of cases where the state is just going out of its way to punish.

  210. That away this man's rights and one day someone may take away yours.

  211. Hypocrites; “freedom of religion.”

  212. Not repenting until you’re in the death chamber? Too little, too late, too doubtful.

  213. Ok can someone explain to me why a chaplain must be present for someone to repent? Can’t Jesus here you wherever you are? Must you go through an intermediary?

  214. I am opposed to death penalty on general grounds. But depriving Mr. Ray of an imam does not strike me as a significant injury because of the theological difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam does not have the concept of salvation by grace. If Mr. Ray did indeed rape and murder a young girl, as a good Muslim he would know he was going to hell, imam or not. A debate on social and ethical implications of death penalty is long overdue. But “religious freedom” has little to do with it.

  215. It sounds to me like the State of Alabama made the right choice. Better to bar all religious people from the death chamber.

  216. This isn’t a matter of religious “liberty”, which has become a code word for “discrimination”. The Hobby Lobby case was a matter if the “liberty” of a company to have deep religious feelings, therefore exempting it from including birth control services in its health plan. “Liberty” was the excuse used to gain the right to discriminate against baking cakes for gay weddings. This is a fundamental right. If the state claims the disgusting, revolting, bizarre right to commit pre-meditated murder, (please read the last three words enough times until you realize what “the death penalty” really is) the least it can do for the victims is allow them to have their religious leader present in the hope that person can do something to obtain that thing we all hope for, even those who don’t or can’t believe in it, some form of continued existence post mort. The state could easily allowed the man to invite a witness, a man who would, on his own, and not as part of the murder ritual, prayed he be granted that which the victim of this obscenity practiced by no other vaguely free government, took his life. (To those of you who find the act of the man murdered by the state abhorrent, explain how killing him will stop other crime - in fact, IMHO - it encourages pre-meditated murder, placing in people’s minds the idea of “if the government can punish someone this way, I can too.)

  217. Religious liberty for much of America, and particularly for fundamentalist America, only means freedom for Christians to practice in any sphere they please, without regard for the law. Freedom of religion generally means freedom from state sanctioned religion, where it can be is the most oppressive, but is obvious in our more backward-looking states, there is only one god and it is the majorities...

  218. "Thou shall not kill" Except...........wait a minute, wait a minute - what is wrong here?

  219. @David Roy That only lasted until Christians had political power, at which point it turned out that it was perfectly acceptable for Christians to serve in the Roman army. Church and state have been pretty intertwined ever since, despite efforts to separate them.

  220. ‘If I can’t have it, then then nobody can have it.’ Schoolyard juvenile argument.

  221. Since 1976, there have been 1492 exececutions (as of February 8, 2019). There are 2738 prisoners on death row (as of July 1, 2018). Since 1973, more than 160 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Innocent people are put on death row. Black defendants are much more likely (up to 3 times more likely) to receive death penalty than like murders by white defendants. Death penalty is much more likely (up to 3 to 4 times more likely) if the murder victims are white than if murder victims are black or hispanic. Death penalty disproportionately kills poor, black and brown people. Death penalty is racist. Consistent with previous years, the 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder rate. The South accounts for over 80% of executions. The Northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, had the lowest murder rate. Death penalties do not deter murders. Death penalty is immoral. No civilized, modern country should have the death penalty. Abolish the immoral, uncivilized, racist, ineffective, expensive death penalty. Then we won’t have to worry if a Chaplain/Priest, Rabbi, Imam, Pandit/Pujari/Purohita/Hindu Priest, Bhikkhu/Bhikṣu/Buddhist Priest or Monk, etc. is present for a state sanctioned death.

  222. As Henry Ford said about having any color car so long as it was black, in the US we can have any kind of public religion so long as it is Protestant Christian.

  223. Pathetic exercise of government power, a shameful act that dishonors the architects of America and disgraces the good people of Alabama who tend to be the most gentle and kindhearted people. This revulsion flies in the face of all that Jesus of Nazareth taught. It is a by-product of Satan at work. Shame on the animals who took so much time to prevent a simple act of compassion. What did this evil effort in the courts and agencies cost the taxpayers of Alabama?

  224. All depends on how religion is defined. The Muslim "religion" is a social-political system based on Shariah. So the real question is, can a politician -- the imam -- "be present at the moment of execution"?

  225. Well having denied the right of a member of the Islamic faith to have a clergy member of his faith present, I don't see how Alabama can now allow any clergy member to be present at an execution. It would clearly be a case of religious discrimination, now that they have set that precedent.