WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24, 2022—The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling today in Ramirez v. Collier, calling it a “significant affirmation of religious liberty.”
John Ramirez, 37, sued Texas prison officials in August 2021 for refusing to permit Dana Moore, his pastor from Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, to minister to him during his execution. The Supreme Court provided relief by granting a stay of the execution on Sept. 8, 2021, the same night Ramirez was scheduled to receive the death penalty, while the Court reviewed the merits of Ramirez’s claims.
The ERLC filed an amicus brief that month asking the court to uphold the sincere religious liberty requests of Ramirez, and allow him to have his pastor lay hands on and audibly pray for him when he receives a lethal injection. The ERLC also published an explainer last year with more information about the case.
“This is a significant affirmation of religious liberty,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the ERLC. “The Supreme Court affirmed that religious freedom does not end at the execution chamber door. In the majority opinion, the court provided significant guidance about how this case should be handled moving forward. The state of Texas should accommodate Mr. Ramirez’s sincere requests based on his religious beliefs and allow Pastor Moore, his Southern Baptist pastor since 2016, to minister to Mr. Ramirez in his final solemn moments of life.”
Ramirez based his request for the stay on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and the ERLC-endorsed brief argued the state failed a test established by that federal law. RLUIPA bars the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion not only by an inmate but by a person or institution in land-use cases. The government, however, can gain an exemption from the law if it can show it has a compelling interest and is using the “least restrictive means” to further that interest.
Religious liberty is a foundational distinctive for Baptists. As further developments in this case materialize, the ERLC will continue to advocate for religious freedom to be respected by the government.