The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Texas death row inmate Patrick Murphy March 28 unless the state allowed a Buddhist spiritual adviser to accompany Murphy in the death chamber during the execution.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh flipped his vote from a similar case last month.
Kavanaugh wrote in the Murphy case that the government may not discriminate on the basis of religion. Texas allows Christian or Muslim spiritual advisers in the execution room, but not spiritual advisers of other faiths.
“What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room,” Kavanaugh said.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have denied the application.
Murphy was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in November 2003.
The religious issue divided the justices in a similar case last month, when a majority of the court, divided by ideological lines, greenlit the execution of a Muslim inmate in Alabama who wasn’t allowed to bring an imam into the execution chamber with him. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent from that move in the case of Domineque Ray, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
“Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the State puts him to death,” Kagan wrote in that case, noting that an appeals court wanted to hear Ray’s claim. But instead, she wrote, “this Court short-circuits that ordinary process—and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument—just so the State can meet its preferred execution date.”