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Muslim man should have had imam at execution, say US bishops


The death penalty itself is an affront to human dignity ... Mr. Ray bore the further indignity of being refused spiritual care in his last moments of life

On February 7, the State of Alabama executed Domineque Ray, a Muslim man whose request to have an imam present at his execution was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4.

Two officials of the United States bishops’ conference denounced that decision.

In a statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the Religious Liberty committee, and Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of the Domestic Justice committee, said that respect for religious freedom must especially apply to minorities.

They further criticize the use of capital punishment at all.

Here is their statement:

The execution of Domineque Ray deeply troubles us. The death penalty itself is an affront to human dignity, and the Church has long called for its abolition in the United States and around the world.

Mr. Ray bore the further indignity of being refused spiritual care in his last moments of life, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Alabama law. This unjust treatment is disturbing to people of all faiths, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise.

People deserve to be accompanied in death by someone who shares their faith. It is especially important that we respect this right for religious minorities.

As Pope Francis said during his recent trip to the United Arab Emirates, “What we are called to do as believers is to commit ourselves to the equal dignity of all.” Let us make this commitment today.

The Supreme Court justices who ruled that the imam couldn’t be present cited the “last-minute” nature of the appeal.

Prison officials based their denial of Ray’s request on security, saying that only employees of the state’s correction department can be in the execution chamber. The prison employs a Christian chaplain.

The Christian chaplain, per Ray’s request, was not in the chamber when the execution was carried out.

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