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Texas reverses ban on religious advisers in execution chamber

April 22 (UPI) -- Texas announced Thursday that it's reversed its ban on spiritual advisers entering the state's execution chambers.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice issued a revised policy allowing death row inmates to designate a TDCJ chaplain or other spiritual adviser of their choosing to be present inside the death chamber after they receive notification of their execution date.

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The reversal comes two years after the state banned any chaplain from entering the execution chamber amid a legal fight with Patrick Murphy, who sought to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed his scheduled 2019 execution on the grounds of religious discrimination after the TDCJ denied his request.

TDCJ Director of Communications Jeremy Desel said his agency "worked closely with the Office of Attorney General and believes the revised policy will allow the TDCJ to carry out its statutory responsibility while still maintaining appropriate safeguards of the execution process."

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Under the new protocol, death row inmates must provide the warden with the contact information of their spiritual adviser within 30 days of receiving notification of their execution date. The adviser must be on the inmate's visitation list and have a previously established relationship and "regular" communication with them.

The spiritual adviser must also provide the TDCJ with credentials proving their official status and undergo a 2-hour orientation with the state's Rehabilitation Programs Division.

The TDCJ said it may deny the inmate's request if their designated spiritual adviser is deemed to be a security risk.

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The Rev. Rick McClatchy, field coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Texas, said he welcomed the TDCJ's protocol change. He was among nearly 200 Texas faith leaders who wrote to the state asking to keep spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

"I am glad the Correctional Institutions Division has restored the sacred tradition of allowing clergy to be present in the execution room to minister to the condemned and will also now allow the presence of a spiritual advisor of that person's religious choice," he said in a statement to UPI.

"I belong to a faith tradition which values the practice of ministering to the executed. It was Jesus who modeled this type of ministry to the men being executed with him. My American civic values also lead me to believe that even those condemned to death and the faith leaders who advise them are guaranteed the right to the free exercise of religion."

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