Interfaith Statement in Response to TDCJ’s Decision to Remove Chaplains from the Execution Chamber
We, the undersigned faith leaders, reflecting the rich diversity of faith traditions observed in this great state, stand together in expressing our dismay at the recent decision by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to remove chaplains from the execution chamber. Our concerns are moral, ethical, and rooted in our nation’s constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, even for those condemned to death and the faith leaders who advise them. We write to you today to ask you to reconsider this new provision of TDCJ’s Execution Procedure and allow chaplains of all faiths to be present in the execution chamber at the request of the condemned inmate.

While the signatories to this letter may have differing opinions on the death penalty itself, we are united in recognizing that the right of condemned people to spiritual comfort at the moment of death is a longstanding and widely-recognized religious practice. Each faith tradition marks this sacred moment in different ways, including anointing, singing, praying and chanting, and laying on of hands. These rituals, stemming from sincerely-held religious beliefs, often require the direct assistance of clergy.

The significance of the physical presence of a chaplain at a condemned person’s last moment is difficult to overstate. In the State of Texas, death row prisoners are denied contact visitation, touched only by TDCJ personnel, and spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. The physical companionship of a chaplain in the execution chamber is a small but vital form of human compassion in an otherwise dehumanizing process. The presence of a chaplain or spiritual advisor in the viewing room is no substitute for this direct ministry.

TDCJ’s decision also infringes on the religious liberty rights of chaplains and spiritual advisors themselves. Clergy have the right to minister to those who have placed themselves in their care, up to and including the moment of death. The state cannot, and should not attempt to, regulate spiritual solace. Placing a wall between a prisoner and clergy violates the religious liberty that has characterized our nation since its founding.

We thank you for your service to the State of Texas and respectfully request that you reconsider this policy and accommodate the rights of condemned prisoners and chaplains of all faith backgrounds.

In faith,

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