Ray v. Commissioner, No. 19-10405 (11th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Petitioner filed a civil rights complaint and emergency motion for stay of execution, claiming that excluding his Imam from the execution chamber at the time of his execution in favor of a Christian chaplain violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA); requiring the presence of a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber at the time of his execution also violated his rights under RLUIPA; Alabama's practice of requiring a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber, while forbidding clerics of other faiths, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and refusing to honor his late election for nitrogen hypoxia as the method of his execution, where his lateness resulted from his religious beliefs, also violated RLUIPA.
The Eleventh Circuit held that Alabama's prison officials favored one religious denomination to the detriment of all others; they have made only general claims about their compelling interest; and they have offered nothing remotely establishing that their policy was narrowly tailored to further that interest. The court held that petitioner was substantially likely to succeed on the merits of his Establishment Clause claim given the little evidence in the record to support the government's interest and the fit between those interests and the state's policy. In this case, given the paucity of evidence, the court concluded that it was not altogether surprising that the state has not clearly argued that petitioner knew or should have known sooner that his religious beliefs would not be accommodated. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for an emergency stay of execution.