Death Penalty

Latino Evangelicals Say No to the Death Penalty

THE NATIONAL LATINO Evangelical Coalition announced in March that it would no longer support the death penalty, making it the first U.S. evangelical association to take this stand. Coalition president Gabriel Salguero announced the change at a press conference in Orlando, Fla., and urged NaLEC’s 3,000 member congregations to work toward ending capital punishment nationwide.

“As Christ-followers, we are called to work toward justice for all. And as Latinos, we know too well that justice is not always even-handed,” said Salguero.

This groundbreaking move by Latino evangelicals puts them at odds with the pro-death penalty stance of the National Association of Evangelicals, although “sources within the NAE say that leadership is considering a change in the months ahead,” according to Religion News Service.

NaLEC did not come to this new position lightly. It came after two years of prayer and reflection accompanied by intensive dialogue between NaLEC’s leadership and Equal Justice USA and the Constitution Project, two leading anti-death penalty organizations. In addition, coalition members met with a number of wrongly convicted former prisoners such as Fernando Bermudez, who spent 18 years in prison in New York for a murder he did not commit.

According to Salguero, selecting Florida for the announcement was intentional. Florida was the first state to reintroduce capital punishment after the Supreme Court struck down the 1972 moratorium. Since executions were resumed, 25 people on Florida’s death row have been exonerated. This record of mistaken convictions is the highest of any state. It is particularly disturbing that Florida has on its books the so-called Timely Justice Act that mandates a swift execution process. With 394 people currently on Florida’s death row and the prevalence of mishandled cases and inadequate defense, especially for minorities, this law exacerbates existing problems in a system plagued by errors.

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July 2015
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Protestants Join Catholics in Reconsidering the Death Penalty

Photo via Bhakpong / Shutterstock / RNS

Close up of a drip bag. Photo via Bhakpong / Shutterstock / RNS

Three times in the past month, the Nebraska Legislature voted for a bill to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. The governor has promised to veto the legislation, and an override vote is looming. Many of the Christian lawmakers made it clear they cast their votes against the death penalty, in part, to promote a whole life ethic.

The leader of the group is Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, a Catholic who put his personal reasons for opposing capital punishment into one easily understood phrase.

“I am pro-life,” he said.

Nebraska Lawmakers Vote to Abolish Death Penalty

Photo via Joseph Sohn / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Joseph Sohn / Shutterstock.com

Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill May 20 to abolish the death penalty by a big enough margin to override a threatened veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The measure passed 32-15 in the state’s unicameral Legislature. It would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison.

If lawmakers override the expected veto, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Gets Death Penalty for Boston Marathon Bombing

Photo via Sasha Fenix / Shutterstock.com

Boylston Street in Boston, blockaded one week after Boston marathon bombing. Photo via Sasha Fenix / Shutterstock.com

After deliberating for 14 hours over the course of three days, a Boston jury of seven women and five men sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, to death.

The jury found Tsarnaev did not show remorse for his actions, and they rejected the defense argument that Tsarnaev was brainwashed by his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed by police shortly after the bombing.

Solitary Confinement: Immoral, Ineffective

The Rev. Laura Markle Downton describes solitary confinement to conference parti

The Rev. Laura Markle Downton describes solitary confinement to conference participants. Image via RNS/Perisphere Media

They’re small spaces — sometimes 7 feet wide, 12 feet long. And they’re where some inmates are held, sometimes for days, sometimes for decades.

Religious leaders across the country are speaking out against solitary confinement cells that they say should never be used by juveniles or the mentally ill and rarely by the general prison population.

The debate is taking on new resonance as a Boston jury weighs the death penalty — or a life sentence with 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the convicted Boston Marathon bomber.

Sister Helen Prejean: Tsarnaev ‘Genuinely Sorry for What He Did’

Sr. Helen Prejean. Photo via REUTERS / Judy Fidkowski / RNS

Sr. Helen Prejean. Photo via REUTERS / Judy Fidkowski / RNS

Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist whose story came to fame with the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, took the stand on May 11 in the penalty phase of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial. She said he is “genuinely sorry for what he did,” and told her how he felt about the suffering he caused to the bombing’s victims.

“He said it emphatically,” Prejean said.

“He said no one deserves to suffer like they did.”

In Every Human Heart

vectorbest / Shutterstock.com

vectorbest / Shutterstock.com

News reports about the trial and the jury’s deliberations spark fury online. Tempers rise as commenters express their opinions about what they believe should be Tsarnaev’s fate. For example, when the Catholic bishops stood in front of the courthouse expressing their opposition to the death penalty, many responded with outrage: “He should be made to suffer as much as he made others suffer.” “Let him fry.” “Torture him and then kill him.” Similarly, when Bill and Denise Richard, the parents of the 8-year-old boy killed by the explosion, wrote a letter expressing their desire to take the death penalty off the table, their views provoked ire.

What motivates these different perspectives? Is justice about vengeance, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Is someone who advocates for life imprisonment soft on crime? Is such a person naïve?

Confusing Jesus with Daredevil

Image courtesy Marvel's Daredevil on Facebook

Image courtesy Marvel's Daredevil on Facebook

Like many comic book fans, I spent the weekend binging on Daredevil, Marvel’s newest release. The entire first season was created for Netflix, and it dropped in its entirety on Friday. I waited until Saturday night to dig in (longer than some friends of mine), and I was hooked from the opening scene.

It's a scene that opens with Matt Murdock (lawyer-by-day alter ego of the masked vigilante Daredevil) sitting in a confessional. He begins by telling the priest about his father, a boxer who fought harder than his record could ever show. He ends the conversation by asking not for penance, but for future forgiveness — forgiveness for what he’s about to do. “That’s not how this works,” the priest says.

Yet so much of how Murdock as Daredevil works in this latest iteration of the character is how we want it to work. Based closely on Frank Miller’s writing of the character, Daredevil proves to be someone who deals justice unflinchingly. This isn’t someone who hesitates when the situation allows for a grim, overly firm hand. Contrast this with Batman, a character who struggles to commit severe violence even when it seems to be the only option.

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