In an op-ed, the New York Times asked, “is religious freedom for Christians only?”
After Trump’s hostility toward Muslims last summer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor cautioned that the majority was subverting the “foundational principles of religious tolerance” in the Constitution.” She said that the court was sending a message to “members of minority religions in our country that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”
On Thursday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that message. A Muslim death-row prisoner, Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray was awaiting execution for raping and killing a 15-year-old girl in 1995 when an appeals court put his execution on hold to assess if a policy at the Holman Correctional Facility, where Ray would be executed, *"*violated the Constitution’s prohibition against religious favoritism by the government."
Ray wanted an imam to be with him when he was executed, but at Holman, only a chaplain is employed. Prison officials said that letting an imam be present would pose security concerns.
Ray said that allowing a minister, but not an imam to be in the execution room was a violation of his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
The court allowed the execution to proceed in a 5-to-4 vote. The imam watched Ray die from behind a glass wall.
The five conservative members of the court reasoned that Ray should have raised his concerns sooner. Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote for the dissenters, called the majority decision “profoundly wrong.”
“Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites,” Justice Kagan wrote. “But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism, or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.”
She continued that Ray “has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the State puts him to death.”