Dominique Ray, a Muslim inmate in Alabama, was executed on Thursday after the US Supreme court voted 5-4 to lift a stay of execution in place over his request to have an imam present in the room with him at the time of death.
Ray’s attorneys argued that Alabama’s execution policy favored Christian inmates, who were allowed the presence of a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber to provide comfort in the last moments before death. On Wednesday the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed to stay the execution to consider the arguments. However, the state of Alabama quickly appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court allowed the execution to go forward. The majority cited the “last-minute nature” of Ray’s request for an imam as the reason for its decision. “Because Ray waited until January 28, 2019 to seek relief, we grant the State’s application to vacate the stay.”
The dissenting justices called the decision “profoundly wrong” and held that Ray’s treatment was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the denial of a Muslim inmate’s request for the same benefit as a Christian one “goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.” She characterized the majority’s decision as a “short-circuit” of the regular process of Constitutional review, for the purpose of helping Alabama reach its preferred execution deadline.
Ray, 42, was executed by lethal injection with his imam watching from a separate room. Per his request, the prison’s Christian chaplain was not present in the execution chamber.