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The “Gas Chamber” is Coming to the United States: What it Means for Religious Freedom

December 15th, 2023

Alabama is beginning to use the gas chamber to execute inmates on death row, and one priest is saying this violates his freedom of religion.

The phrase “gas chamber” does not conjure up pleasant images for Americans. In fact, it is closely associated with the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and one of the most deadly acts of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen. Despite these negative connotations, the United States will soon adopt gas executions on an industrial scale not seen since Adolf Hitler’s Germany. This move is causing serious concern among not just Jews but also Christians. 

Alabama Chooses the Gas Chamber

In response to a worrying number of botched executions over the past few years, Alabama has decided to completely revamp its approach to the death penalty. While lethal injection was once the preferred method, Alabama has decided to try something a little different. On January 25, 2024, the first inmate will be executed by nitrogen gas. This marks a first for the United States, and the trend may eventually spread to other states. 

On the one hand, Alabama’s decision came after a series of challenges with using lethal injections. In fact, the first inmate who will be executed with nitrogen was the “victim” of a botched lethal injection in 2022. In many cases, these inmates are repeatedly injected with doses of lethal chemicals that seem to accomplish very little. In some cases, inmates have endured hours of pain and humiliation before finally passing away. Some argue that death by firing squad would be more humane, as archaic as that might sound. 

Why are Some Objecting?

For decades, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have objected to the use of cyanide gas and other forms of gas in executions. According to the ACLU, this represents an “affront” to Jewish people today – an insult to the countless victims and survivors of the Holocaust. In 2002, the ACLU expressed particularly high levels of disgust at Arizona’s decision to use the infamous “Zyklon B” compound – the same gas used to execute Jews in various concentration camps during the Third Reich. 12,000 Jews have signed a petition opposing Alabama’s introduction of nitrogen gas on similar grounds. 

Christians object to the use of gas as well. In particular, Reverend Jeff Hood argues that it will prevent him from ministering to the inmate during his last moments due to safety protocols that mandate a three-foot distance. He claims that this is a clear violation of the man’s religious freedoms, and he has filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections as a result. Interestingly, the Reverend states that the decision to use gas violates his religious freedoms as well as that of the inmate. 

It is not clear why the Reverend needs to be so close to the inmate in order to carry out his religious duties. If physical proximity is so important, it is difficult to imagine an execution method that satisfies his needs. Death by firing squad (another proposed alternative to the lethal injection) would also put the Reverend and other religious officials in danger. 

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Each month, various issues test the nature of religious rights in this country for all religions. The Universal Life Church’s blog is focused on documenting the most noteworthy of these cases in an objective manner that can be easily understood by readers.The Universal Life Church accepts all people from all walks of life, and it remains a staunch supporter of diverse thought and religious expression.

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