The Supreme Court just handed down one of the most nakedly bigoted decisions imaginable.
On Thursday evening, long after the news day was done, the Supreme Court ruled against religious freedom for a Muslim man in a 5-4 decision.
Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray was set to be put to death Thursday. His appeals were exhausted, but he had one last request: As a Muslim, he wanted an imam to be in the chamber with him when he was put to death.
In Alabama, prisoners can have a Christian chaplain with them in the chamber when they are executed. Ray's imam was available to join him in the death penalty chamber, but Alabama — and a majority of the United States Supreme Court — were so eager to put the man to death, and so eager to inflict one more casual cruelty, that they refused to stay the execution for a short time so that the imam could be present.
The Supreme Court announced its decision just after 9 p.m. on Thursday night. Ray was executed at 10:12 p.m., without his imam. All four liberal justices dissented from the refusal to stay the decision.
This is a Supreme Court that has touted its commitment to "religious freedom," but it is really only freedom for conservative Christians.
The conservatives on the court ruled that merely signing a piece of paper to forego providing birth control to your employees was a substantial burden on religious freedom. And they held that making a cake for a gay couple was too terrible for a Christian baker to contemplate.
But when it came to a Muslim man asking for a small thing that affected no one but him, Alabama and the conservatives on the Supreme Court suddenly weren't so interested in accommodating someone's religious beliefs.
All four liberal justices would have granted the stay so that Ray could have his imam in the chamber with him. Justice Elena Kagan wrote an elegant, sparse dissent explaining why this decision was wrong. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution states that no religion can be officially preferred over another. It's a core principle of the founding of America.
In this instance, Kagan noted, the lower court — the Eleventh Circuit — issued a stay and wanted to hear the matter in full and then issue a decision. Justice Kagan explains why that is so wrong. "Instead, this Court short-circuits that ordinary process—and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument—just so the State can meet its preferred execution date."
She's right. There was no reason the execution of Ray had to happen on February 7. Since Ray's appeals on the execution itself had been exhausted, had he succeeded with this request, all it would have meant was that he could die with his spiritual advisor in the room, which is the very least Alabama could provide.
Instead, Alabama fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, where it met with a conservative majority more than willing to treat Muslims with disrespect and disdain.
This case lays bare the fact that the conservatives on this court are only interested in religious liberty when it allows them to advance their conservative Christian beliefs. Each member of the conservative majority claims to be religious, but in the end, here they showed no mercy.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.