(Reuters) - A U.S. federal court blocked Thursday's scheduled execution of a Muslim inmate in Alabama on grounds the state may be violating his religious rights by refusing to allow an imam to be present at his death.
The 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals said on Wednesday it had granted an indefinite stay for Dominique Ray, 42, a day before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection for the killing of a 15-year-old girl more than 23 years ago.
A three-judge panel wrote that it appeared Alabama might be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which deals with religious rights.
The state on Wednesday appealed the stay of execution.
The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) denied Ray's request to have his imam at his execution, saying that only ADOC employees could be present in the execution chamber, the state said in a court document.
A prison chaplain employed by the department is allowed to be present at executions but other spiritual advisers must witness executions from a viewing room, according to the state.
Ray was convicted in the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville, who disappeared from her home in Selma, Alabama, in July 1995. Her body was found in a field a month later.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)