Written by Don Byrd

A fascinating case is making its way through the federal courts in Arkansas, as a judge who was removed from death penalty cases because of his stated religious and moral opposition has sued members of the state’s Supreme Court for violations of the First Amendment and Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (ARFRA). Last week, a federal district court allowed claims against the justices to proceed.

Here is an excerpt from the opinion describing the issues raised by the plaintiff judge:

In his Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges that “in his personal life and his capacity as a pastor, [he] has expressed his personal religious and moral views on the death penalty.” He admits participating in prayer vigils as an exercise of his religious expression and claims to have “always conducted his religious activities outside the auspices of his judicial role.” Plaintiff contends that “notwithstanding his personal religious beliefs and moral views about the death penalty, [he] has always attempted to interpret Arkansas law on the death penalty fairly, without predisposition and according to law and precedent.”  Plaintiff admits that on April 10, 2017 he expressed his personal view, in a blog post about religious faith,that “the death penalty is ‘morally’ -not legally- unjustified.”

On Good Friday, April 14, 2017, Plaintiff attended a rally organized to demonstrate opposition to the death penalty on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol. On the same day, he attended a prayer vigil outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

Plaintiff alleges that “the Arkansas Supreme Court entered Order No. 17-155 in retaliation for [his] exercise of his religious freedom through attendance at the Good Friday prayer vigil and gathering…

The ruling allows the case to move ahead with discovery.