The death penalty is used to stem the tide of murder in the country. It is there to keep people from taking life from another just because they get angry. It provides teeth to the law that murder is wrong. But when the United States Supreme Court stopped the execution of a man in Texas people wondered what it was all about.
Ruben Gutierrez was found guilty of murdering an 85-year-old over 20 years ago. The inmate was scheduled to die months ago but the virus put a stop to it then. And now the Supreme Court is stepping in on the bounds of religious freedom.
The right to life and religious freedom are both foundational to the United States. Gutierrez had violated the right to life when he murdered another human being. But the issue of religion still plays a part in his religious right to have a chaplain go with him to the death chamber.
The prison system in question would not allow the chaplain to go with him for religious reasons. Life demands spirituality and Gutierrez has the right still to believe and worship the way he can. Even at death, he should be allowed a chaplain to help his beliefs flourish.
The decision to stop allowing clergy into the death chamber came about because inmates were requesting clergy to be present. Law enforcement in Texas stopped allowing the practice after the Supreme Court stopped another execution because the inmate wanted a Buddhist adviser to be present. After that issue, the prison leadership stated that only prison staff could be in the chamber.
Shawn Nolan is one of the attorneys for Gutierrez. He has stated that “Through hundreds of previous executions, the state of Texas has recognized that people being executed have the right to be in the presence of religious advisers when they face the end of their lives. Gutierrez has that same right.”
The decision of the Supreme Court is based on a ruling that is still coming from one of the high courts. They must give an answer to the issue of allowing a member of the clergy into the room or not. That decision is still to be made. But the issue of religious freedom is paramount. To deny the inmate religious observance at the end steps on the freedom of religion.
Gutierrez was a thief who was trying to steal $600,000 from an elderly lady in her home. As a result of him killing someone, he has to die. But he still has the right to care for his soul at the end.
The decision to end a life is never an easy one. Lawyers and officials fight over every one of them because they have to be absolutely sure that all matters are taken care of. In Gutierrez’s case, clergy are supporting him the right to have a religious official present at the end.
Bishop Daniel Flores stated, “To deny a prisoner facing imminent execution access to spiritual and religious guidance and accompaniment is cruel and inhuman.” But so was the murder that was committed.
Gutierrez continues to state that he is innocent. Reports show that he became a friend of his victim and discovered that she had a large sum of money hidden away and decided he wanted it all.
Some people think that the inmate is just stalling because he is afraid of death. Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz stated that the inmate is using “delay tactics” and trying to find anything at all to keep him from being killed. He also stated that “It is time for justice to be served for Mrs. Harrison.”
Greedy Gutierrez will have to pay for his crimes. He will have to be put to death because he took a life. He does have the right to have a clergy present because freedom of religion is a guarantee of the Constitution. No one is saying he does not have to die. But he should be allowed to face eternity knowing what will happen to his soul once it crosses over to the other side.