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NewsReligion, death penalty collide at Supreme Court

Religion, death penalty collide at Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is sending a message to states that want to continue to carry out the death penalty: Inmates must be allowed to have a spiritual adviser by their side as they are executed.

The high court Thursday declined to let Alabama proceed with the lethal injection of Willie B. Smith III. Smith had objected to Alabama’s policy that his pastor would have had to observe his execution from an adjacent room rather than the death chamber itself.

The order from the high court follows two years in which inmates saw rare success in bringing challenges based on the issue of chaplains in the death chamber. This time, liberal and conservative members of the court found common ground on the issue of religious freedom and how the death penalty is carried out.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of three justices who said they would have let Smith’s execution go forward, said Alabama’s policy applies equally to all inmates and serves a state interest in ensuring safety and security. But he said it was apparent that his colleagues who disagreed were providing a path for states to follow.

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