Allow chaplains in execution chambers

May 18, 2019 GMT

Scheduled to be executed in March, Patrick Murphy — a Buddhist for years — requested the presence of a Buddhist chaplain who had been visiting him in prison. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice refused for bureaucratic reasons. The U.S. Supreme Court found the refusal discriminatory, so the department decided no spiritual advisers would be allowed in execution rooms.

If the companionship of spiritual advisers when being executed was something to be valued prior to March, it remains so now. Along with birth, coming of age, conversion and marriage, death is, for many, a religious event. An infant is welcomed into a faith community, an adolescent is made aware of responsibilities, conversions and marriages become awakenings to the significance of shared faith and life. With death, someone leaves a community —changing the lives of others.


Such events are not solipsistic quirks of individuals; they are marks of the presence of a community in someone’s conscience. When individuals, no matter how flawed, reach out to a community at the point of death, it is a genuine acknowledgment and affirmation of that community and indirectly of the society on whose behalf the agencies of law provide peace and security. This merits being preserved, as a right of the individual, as well as a foundational freedom of society and its laws. It is a matter of the “free exercise” of religion.

The decision to deny spiritual advisers in the execution room did not come from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice not having a Buddhist chaplain in its employ; that was so before the Supreme Court’s ruling. The department could have employed Murphy’s Buddhist chaplain on a temporary basis, and at much less expense than that of litigation. No, the decision has the appearance of retaliation in response to a successful recourse to the courts.

Anthony J. Blasi lives in San Antonio.