A member of the "Texas 7" gang of escaped prisoners won a reprieve Thursday night from execution for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer after claiming his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn't allowed to be in the death chamber with him. The US Supreme Court blocked Patrick Murphy's execution about two hours after he could have been executed. Murphy's attorneys had said that Texas prison officials' efforts to prevent the inmate's spiritual adviser, a Buddhist priest, from being with him when he is put to death violated Murphy's First Amendment right to freedom of religion, the AP reports. Murphy, 57, became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated. Lower courts had rejected Murphy's argument.
But in a concurring opinion Thursday night, the newest justice on the court, Brett Kavanaugh, said the Texas prison system allows a Christian or Muslim inmate to have a state-employed Christian or Muslim religious adviser present either in the execution room or in the adjacent viewing room, and religious discrimination is unconstitutional. "The government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations," he wrote. Kavanaugh said Texas can't move forward with Murphy's punishment unless the state permits his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state's choosing to accompany Murphy in the chamber during the execution. (Last month, the court allowed Alabama to execute a Muslim inmate who wanted to have his imam present in the chamber.)