News Roundup: Faith Leaders Want Chaplains To Accompany Texas Inmates To Execution Chamber

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelJuly 25, 2019 5:01 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

More than 180 faith leaders want the Texas prison system to reconsider its ban on chaplains accompanying inmates into the execution chamber.

They have sent a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice expressing their concerns. The state agency stopped allowing chaplains in the execution chamber April of this year in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

After a death row inmate requested his Buddhist spiritual advisor to be within the execution chamber with him – the high court said Texas has to allow chaplains of all religions or none at all. The state settled on none. TDCJ spokesperson Jeremy Desel tells Texas Standard that, even before this inmate’s request, only a select number of chaplains employed with the agency had the depth of experience and training to be allowed within the execution chamber, itself. 

Rick McClatchy is with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Texas, which helped organize this effort to send a letter to TDCJ. 

“A prisoner that is not a Christian shouldn’t have to have a Christian clergyperson like me, sort of forced upon them, because the state won’t allow a chaplain of their choice to be there,” McClatchy says.

McClatchy says he’d like to see TDCJ make chaplains of all faiths available to death row inmates within the execution chamber. 

“I don’t think that it would be that big of an issue to find chaplains that would be willing to step in on a temporary role to be with the person that was being executed., McClatchy says.

TDCJ spokesperson Desel points out that chaplains or approved spiritual advisors of all religious faiths can visit the inmate prior to their execution and be in the witness room during the execution. 

TDCJ chaplains will continue to be available to the condemned until they are transferred to the execution chamber when agency chaplains will be three feet away in the witness room.” Desel emphasizes, “ the security of the execution chamber itself must be guaranteed.” 

Ten executions are scheduled to take place in Texas by the end of this year.

The American Civil Liberties Union  says three asylum-seekers on hunger strike at a Texas detention facility are being threatened with force feeding. The ACLU says attorneys for the migrants detained at the El Paso Processing Center alerted them to the situation. The hunger strike has been going on for about two weeks. The group is calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement not to force feed the three migrants. 

Bernardo Rafael Cruz is an Immigrants’ Rights Fellow with the ACLU of Texas. He says not only is force-feeding a cruel practice, it would violate the first amendment right to freedom of expression. 

“For folks who are on hunger strike this often the only form of expressive conduct that they have left to protest their detention and their conditions,” Cruz says.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been contacted for comment.

Wind has surpassed coal as an energy source in Texas for the first time ever, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. 

Texas is the largest consumer of coal in the country, but in the first half of this year, wind created 22 percent of the electricity used, squeaking past coal by 1%. 

But natural gas ultimately reigns supreme, producing more electricity than any other source at 38%. Solar energy accounted for 1% of electricity. That share is expected to grow, though, as more solar farms are set up in Texas.