Lighting the Torch of Conscience

The sun glistened on the reflecting pool on this clear April morning in Atlanta. In the shadow of the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr., a torch was lit for human dignity and justice. It was held high by Delbert Tibbs, a man who spent several years on Florida's death row until he was found innocent of the crime for which he had been sentenced to death. As the flame came to life in his hands, Tibbs quoted Deuteronomy 30:19 -- "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live."

Organizers of the April 14 event hope that this torch is just the first of many "torches of conscience" that will be lit, sweeping the nation's religious community with a new fire of resolve to work to abolish the death penalty in the United States, the only Western democracy that still practices capital punishment. National religious leaders converged on Atlanta to help launch a year-long, nationwide campaign that will culminate in the spring of 1990 with a 330-mile march from Starke, Florida -- home of Florida's electric chair -- to inner-city Atlanta.

Almost every major religious body in the country has put forth a statement condemning the death penalty. And yet in the last decade more than 100 people have been executed by the state, and 2,100 others live under sentence of death.

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