Domineque Ray will soon be executed by the state of Alabama, and he wants his imam to be in the death chamber when he is killed. It’s not an absurd request: Alabama provides death row inmates with a Christian chaplain to pray with them just before they are given a lethal injection. But Ray is a devout Muslim, and he asked that a spiritual adviser of his own faith accompany him in the chamber. Alabama refused. The state insisted that Ray either accept the Christian chaplain or be killed alone. It scheduled his execution for Thursday evening.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Alabama from killing Ray, ruling that the state’s refusal to let his imam attend the execution likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court’s remarkable decision correctly accuses the state of engaging in flagrant religious discrimination, favoring Christianity over Islam and prioritizing a swift death over constitutional rights. It also potentially tees up a Supreme Court battle that will test the conservative majority’s ostensible commitment to religious freedom. If the Republican-appointed justices reverse the 11th Circuit, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that their zeal for capital punishment outweighs their commitment to religious liberty.