Religious leaders call on Biden to end federal death penalty once and for all



Temporarily suspending executions is not enough, they say.

Attorney General Merrick Garland temporarily on break all federal executions on July 1 to review the country’s death penalty procedures.

Now religious leaders are pushing President Joe Biden to keep his campaign promise and end the death penalty once and for all at the federal level.

“I am a strong believer in harm reduction, so this is a good step, but it is definitely not enough,” Buddhist monk Tashi Nyima, a member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalish.

Religious leaders fear a repeat of the last days of the Trump administration, when the former president launched an end of term slaughter, overseeing 13 executions after a 17-year respite.

“It had been so long and to think that the government, this administration, was planning these executions … as the election approached – this man was doing all he could to get the support of this part of our nation, these citizens, these people. voters who still somehow think killing another person is okay, ”said Sister Barbara Battista, justice advocate for the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana, during a telephone interview.

Battista previously served as a spiritual advisor to former federal death row inmates Keith Nelson, who was convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in 1999, and William LeCroy, a former soldier who been convicted of rape and murder. nurse in 2001. She accompanied them both to their executions last year in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the federal executions are taking place.

While praising Biden for re-establishing a break, the clergy said they hoped for the complete abolition of the death penalty, making the United States a outlier among its closest allies and more than 70% of the nations of the world, who do not use punishment.

“Hope [is] that this will be the first of many steps to finally get rid of this angel of death from our lands, ”Cantor Michael Zoosman, founder of L’Chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.

Benjamin Zober, who worked with death row inmates as a public defender before becoming a rabbi, said a moratorium is a positive step in the right direction, but it can still cause damage.

“For those on death row and their families and anyone involved, this only delays the end result,” Zober said in a telephone interview. “There are often discussions about shutting down and bringing things to an end in court and the temporary stopping of things delays some of that and keeps everyone in a really anxious, uncomfortable and difficult place.”

The president pledged during the election campaign to eliminate the death penalty.

“Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and urge states to follow the lead of the federal government,” his 2020 campaign site bed. “These people should instead be serving life sentences without probation or parole.

But Biden’s actions so far have, at least in part, gone against that promise.

Last month, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court reinstate the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon suicide bomber, after a federal appeals court overturned his death sentence last year.

The clergy are baffled by the moratorium, considering Biden to be the First president in the nation’s history to oppose the death penalty.

Biden could issue an executive order to commute the sentences of nearly 50 people currently on death row. In Congress, lawmakers this year reintroduced the Federal law of 2021 on the prohibition of the death penalty, which would ban the death penalty at the federal level, although it has not been put to a vote.

In Pittsburgh, Dor Hadash, one of the congregations targeted in the Tree of Life shooting that left 11 worshipers dead in 2018, has voiced her opposition to the death penalty for alleged shooter Robert Bowers.

“We want justice to be done in a way that both conforms to our religious values ​​and spares us the painful ordeal of prolonged legal maneuvers leading to a long trial and years of unpredictable appeals,” wrote Dor Hadash chairman Bruce Herschlag. in the June 17 letter.

Religious leaders have repeatedly pointed to religious doctrine and teaching as a justification for ending the practice.

While the death penalty often recurs in the Torah, the writing of the law and ethics of Judaism, the rabbis subsequently revised Jewish education to make it almost impossible to achieve.

Last weekend Zoosman led protesters before the Supreme Court in prayer against the death penalty during Starvin ‘for justice, an annual fast and vigil. He recited Kol Nidre, a sacred text chanted on Judaism’s most solemn day, Yom Kippur, to “atone for the national sin of the death penalty.”

The Five Precepts, the fundamental ethical code of Buddhism, explicitly state that it is forbidden to take another life, Nyima said.

And there is a long tradition of opposition to the death penalty among Christians, although beliefs differ dramatically across faiths and racial lines.

More than three-quarters of white Protestants consider the death penalty to be morally justified. This compares to just 60% of American adults who in favor of the death penalty for those convicted of murder.

“Unfortunately our church and our religion in general… has been co-opted – made to believe that people are expendable,” Battista said. “That some people can be sacrificed, like people on our southern border, like poor and destitute people, like people condemned to death.”

For Catholics, opposition to the death penalty is more consolidated. in 2018, Pope Francis ordered a change of doctrine, calling it “inadmissible”. Two years later, he reiterated his opposition, declaring: “The death penalty is unacceptable and Catholics should work for its abolition.

Beyond religion, death penalty abolitionists cite a myriad of other reasons for abolishing the death penalty.

American justice has frequently sentenced innocent people to death. Since the 1970s, Amnesty International reports that 184 prisoners sentenced to death were subsequently exonerated. And DNA tests have throw doubt on the guilt of some who were executed.

Between the costs of justice, pre-trial, jury, trial, incarceration and appeal, the execution of prisoners also costs states and the federal government. millions of dollars, with a certain arguing excessive costs are a reason to move away from the practice.

Advocates also say the death penalty is another racial discrimination tool.

People of color have accounted for 43% of executions since 1976 and more than half of those sentenced to death. Eighty percent of capital cases involve white victims even though they only represent about half of all murder victims, according to the ACLU.

“The system is so racist, the criminal justice system – there is no doubt about its racial basis,” Battista said.

While supporters say the death penalty helps prevent crime, studies have found no proof of deterrence.

Abolitionists call this practice cruel and needlessly harsh.

“All life is sacred and our government should never take another person’s life on my behalf,” Battista said. “The death penalty is an act of revenge and it has no place in civil society.

Published with permission from the American Independent Foundation.


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