The presence of pastors in execution chambers continues to be a disputed topic. The latest case involves Oklahoma death-row inmate Scott Eizember, who’s scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Jan. 12.
State corrections officials denied Eizember’s request to have his spiritual adviser, Arkansas pastor Jeff Hood, present in the execution chamber. Authorities cite Hood’s anti-death penalty activism, including an arrest during a protest in Texas. The pastor can meet with Eizember beforehand, they say, and can watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV from elsewhere in the penitentiary.
Yesterday (Jan. 9), Hood and Eizember filed a federal lawsuit, requesting the execution be paused until the pastor is granted full access. A similar delay occurred last fall in Texas, with inmate John Henry Ramirez ultimately receiving the okay to have a pastor present for prayer and laying on of hands.
Scott Eizember’s Pastor: DOC Is ‘Not the Department of Theology’
During a press conference yesterday, Hood told reporters that Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections labeled him a “woke preacher”—which he considers an honor because the Gospel has social implications.
The DOC, Hood argues, is “not the department of theology” and “should not and cannot be in the business of determining which religions and which spiritualities are appropriate to the ministers of persons in the chamber.” Being denied access is “not just a violation of religious liberty,” adds the pastor, “but also a violation of other First Amendment protections.”
In a written statement, Hood expounds on his history, saying Oklahoma’s DOC “can slander me for three arrests for peaceful protest and a national reputation as an activist all they want. What they can’t do is trample on the religious liberty of their prisoners and the ministers who serve them. Protest and protected speech against injustice doesn’t make me an enemy of the Department of Corrections. It makes me a follower of Jesus.”
State DOC: We’re ‘Ensuring the Dignity of All Involved’
Josh Ward, spokesman for the state’s DOC, says its decision is based on respect for victims’ family members. The agency is responsible for “ensuring the dignity of all involved” in an execution, he says, and “will not allow the outbursts of activists to interfere, regardless of that activist’s declared role in this process.”
Ward continues: “The spiritual adviser in this case has been arrested multiple times for such outbursts in other states, demonstrating a blatant disregard for the experiences of victims’ families and the solemnity of the process.”