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Constitutional Rights & the Public’s Health

Dale Hartkemeyer v. William P. Barr et al.

Overview

Dale Hartkemeyer v. William P. Barr et al. (U.S. District Court – District of Indiana, July 14, 2020): The court denied a request for stay of execution based on the argument that scheduling the execution during the COVID-19 pandemic violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”) and the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). Plaintiffs were ministers of record for Wesley Purkey and Dustin Lee Honken, who were scheduled for execution on July 15, 2020 and July 17, 2020, respectively. The ministers argued that scheduling the executions during the pandemic substantially burdened their religious beliefs because the risk of contracting COVID-19 prevented them from attending to the spiritual needs of Mr. Purkey and Mr. Honken in the prison facilities. A successful RFRA claim must show that government action substantially burdens a sincerely held religious belief.  The court reasoned that the pandemic was not a government action and could not serve as the basis of a RFRA claim. Under the APA, plaintiffs argued that scheduling the executions during the pandemic was a violation of authority because it did not properly consider the circumstances. The court rejected this argument citing the Bureau of Prisons “unconstrained discretion” to set an execution date. The stay of execution was denied and both men were executed. Read the decision here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – August 11, 2020.

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