Press Release

Buddhist inmate still fighting for clergy in the Texas death chamber after second stay of execution Becket files emergency friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Constitution guarantees access to clergy for the condemned

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – After a federal court issued a second stay of execution on Thursday to Buddhist death row inmate Patrick Murphy, Becket is now urging the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow Murphy access to a Buddhist priest in the execution chamber. Murphy’s execution is scheduled for November 13. The U.S. Supreme Court first stayed the execution in Murphy v. Collier in March, following Becket’s argument that depriving Patrick Murphy access to a priest of his own faith violated his free exercise rights under the First Amendment. A Houston federal district court stayed Murphy’s execution a second time Thursday, prompting the State of Texas to file an emergency appeal to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. The Fifth Circuit ordered briefing in the appeal to be filed over the weekend.

Becket’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that prisoners condemned to death have a fundamental First Amendment right to the comfort of clergy in their last hours. Because Texas changed its policy specifically to deny Murphy comfort of clergy at the hour of his death, the Fifth Circuit should apply the highest level of constitutional scrutiny to Texas’s decision to ban Buddhist priests from the death chamber and even from speaking with the condemned close in time to the execution. Particularly because Texas long allowed Christians and Muslims to accompany the condemned to the death chamber, there is no logical or moral reason to exclude Buddhist priests.

The following statement can be attributed to Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket:

“Our country has long afforded the comfort of clergy to the condemned at the hour of his death. That we do so says more about who we are as a nation than it does about the condemned. Texas long allowed ministers in the death chamber, so there is no practical reason why Texas can’t allow it for Buddhists also. The Fifth Circuit should order Texas to allow Murphy access to a Buddhist priest at the time of his death.”

Texas’s previous policy allowed Christian and Muslim clergy to accompany prisoners in the execution chamber, but following the Supreme Court stay in March, the State changed its pre-execution procedure to block all spiritual advisors from entering the chamber. The new policy does allow employed chaplains to be with an inmate just before execution. Murphy has argued, and Becket agrees, that depriving inmates of access to a spiritual advisor of their own faith in the final moments before death flies in the face of the First Amendment.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.