Religious concerns highlighted as California resumes executions

By Julia Collings
June 22, 2009

California is to resume executions after a three-year hiatus. Campaigners have responded to the proposed lethal injection regulations with a series of concerns placing a strong focus on religious and spiritual freedoms.

Comments put together by Death Penalty Focus (DPF) say that California’s proposals “unduly interfere with the religious rights of the person to be executed and fail to guarantee all necessary religious freedoms”.

Primary issues of concern include the fact that under the regulations, the State Chaplain must reveal to the Warden the contents of conversations held with the person to be executed. DPF says this is a “violation of the clergy-penitent relationship, is contrary to the ethical obligations of clergy, and may violate state law”.

The regulations also allow only the State Chaplain to visit the prisoner in front of his cell. All other spiritual advisors are limited to the common visiting area, which would hamper private rituals such as confession say campaigners.

In addition, spiritual advisors are not allowed to accompany people into the execution chamber along with other members of staff. DPF says that “there is no legitimate reason to exclude the spiritual advisor from the execution chamber or prohibit physical contact with the person being executed”. They point out that Texas has “long permitted the spiritual advisor to enter the execution chamber and to touch the person during the execution”.

There are also concerns that California’s regulations make no allowance for certain end of life rituals. In 2000, Darrell Young Elk Rich, a Native American, was denied his request for a sweat lodge (a sacred purification ceremony) prior to execution.

A public hearing on 30 June 2009 will hear comments about these proposed execution procedures.

Most church denominations in the US support an end to the death penalty.

These include The Catholic Church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, The World Council of Churches, The United Methodist Church, The Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Religious Society of Friends, the Mennonites and the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.