Discerning Justice: Yes on 34

Anti-death penalty campaigner Alan Toy. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-death penalty campaigner Alan Toy. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

October was Interfaith Month for Prop 34, a time set aside for leaders of faith traditions to address the question of California’s death penalty and advocate for its replacement. Hundreds of faith community’s have endorsed Proposition 34 because we believe the best way to do justice in California is to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole. 

The will to see justice done is deep within the human spirit. We may not always agree on what “justice” looks like, but the belief in a just and fair society — and the desire to bring it about — are at the heart of how we live together and form a community. In religious traditions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and countless others, doing justice is a calling to enact God’s will.

The next question is, of course, what does that mean? Discerning justice can be even harder than doing justice. 

Death Penalty for Jesus

Stained glass window of Jesus scourging, Nancy Bauer /

Stained glass window of Jesus scourging, Nancy Bauer /

In 2009, after moving to Southern California, a neighbor, Tom Rotert, who is an attorney, asked about my reporting on wrongful convictions and wrongful executions while I was at the Chicago Tribune.

I explained that along with my fellow reporter Steve Mills, we had documented numerous wrongful convictions in Illinois and the executions of two innocent men in Texas — Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham.

 “You know who the ultimate wrongful execution is, don’t you?” Rotert asked. “It was Jesus Christ. They killed the son of God.”

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ doesn’t come up very often in discussions about wrongful convictions in America, but as California voters prepare to go to the polls to vote on Proposition 34 which would ban the death penalty in this state, two lawyers — one from Chicago and one from Minneapolis — are doing exactly that.

'Spiritual-But-Not-Religious' Mecca Faces Midlife Crisis

RNS photo by Chris Franek

Caught in the rapture - Tai Chi on the pool deck with Al Huang at Esalen Institute. RNS photo by Chris Franek

BIG SUR, Calif. — Perched atop the rugged splendor of the California coast south of Monterey, the Esalen Institute is the mother church for people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious." Over the last five decades, hundreds of thousands of seekers have come to this incubator of East-meets-West spirituality looking for new ways to bring together body, mind, psyche and soul.

But on May 30, as this iconic hot springs spa and retreat center celebrates its 50th birthday, a bitter dispute has broken out over its future. Like the many “seminarians” who come here after losing a spouse or a job, Esalen now faces its own midlife crisis.

California's 'Prop 8' Ruled Unconsitutional

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Same-sex couple celebrates outside of San Francisco City Hall Tuesday. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In a decision that likely will set the stage for a high-stakes showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down California's Proposition 8 ballot measure that banned gay marriage, saying there is no "legitimate" reason to keep same-sex couples from marrying.