Death Row and Clergy

This is upsetting to me.

Here is the situation as I understand it. Clergy of all stripes have been allowed to visit death row inmates before their moment of doom. A man or woman dying has been granted this ability, to have a religious leader or figure with them in the moments when the state exercises the ultimate power it has, to kill one of its citizens.

This ministerial presence historically involves touching — laying on of hands, and speaking words of prayer, perhaps even oil depending on the religious tradition invoked up until the last possible moment. Of course there are limitations to this when hanging, firing squad, beheading, or gas chamber are used. But even so, historically, clergy are there giving comfort as long as possible and safe.

For reasons I can only speculate about, the State of Texas decided in 2019 this moment of comfort should be revoked. At first it was a complete revocation denying the presence of any clergy of any kind regardless of the request of the individual being executed. Eventually this was softened and a religious leader could be present but was not allowed to speak or touch the person about to die.

The Supreme Court of the United States is today hearing oral arguments against this practice. It is shocking to me how often my state appears on the docket for SCOTUS of late, and I don’t like it. But what I really don’t like is this law. This is not even about the death penalty itself. I am personally against the death penalty but I affirm the state’s rights to do it. The problem is this is cruel and beneath us and it is very unsettling to think anyone who is in charge of public policy in our state would have this as a go-to impulse. It is a crime against conscience and a violation of the free exercise of religion to continue such barbaric retribution.

Click this picture of Pastor Dana Moore to read the Washington Post’s excellent story about this

I do not deny the people who are executed are people who have done horrible things and committed great acts of violence. That goes without saying. They are people who denied others their dignity and their humanity. I understand that. And they are being punished for it. We are not criminals and we are not psychopathic killers with no feeling or touch of humanity. We must be better than those we are ostensibly killing in order to protect society. It is about us, not them.

Do better Texas. Do better.