Sunday, December 04, 2005

Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord!

As my regular readers know, I am not a religious man. But as we sit and reflect on the 1000th execution since the United States reinstated the death penalty in the 1976, one cannot help but become reflective over state sanctioned vengeance. Make no mistake, when the state executes people they are doing nothing less than usurping God’s divine right to exact vengeance and, in so doing, tacitly committing murder.

No matter whether you are religious or not there is no way to legitimize executing prisoners who have committed heinous crimes. First, allow me to take the Judeo-Christian approach to this argument. I will be on somewhat tenuous ground so I urge my readers of faith to post comments and corrections as necessary.

As I see it, there are many passages in Holy Scripture which denounce the practice of state sanctioned executions. The following passage is from the New American Standard Bible. There can be no ambiguity over the intent.

Romans 12:14-21 - [Verse 19 in Original Greek]
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath {of God,} for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Clearly, vengeance is a divine right, not to be usurped by Man. The death penalty sends the wrong message to society. It says that murder is okay if it can be justified. Murder can never be justified. Many people of faith have actively opposed capital punishment. Great men like Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.

Many of us who are not believers, however, the idea of basing our system of punishment on religious doctrine is very troubling, so I will expound a bit on the policy arguments against capital punishment.

  • The death penalty is a violation of human rights primarily Article 3 and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some assert that it violates the "natural rights" laid out by 17th-century English philosopher John Locke who set out many of the foundations of American law. The American Declaration of Independence also includes the "right to life" as the first listed of the natural rights. While those against capital punishment might claim this as an irrevocable right, proponents may claim that, as protection from abuse is the basis of such rights, that the right was forfeit by the seriousness of the crimes.
  • Many mistakes are made in our criminal justice system. Many people are tried and convicted by a jury of their peers only to later be exonerated by due to error, new evidence and/or evidence police malfeasance. Since 1973, 119 people in 25 US states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. This is made even more troublesome by the advent of DNA evidence and linking people to crimes via their DNA.
  • Over 95% of defendants cannot afford legal representation. These people’s fate ends up the responsibility of public defenders that are often impossibly over-worked. The defendants often end up receiving mediocre counsel.
  • Despite all claims otherwise it has NEVER been proven that the death penalty is a deterrent.
  • It denies the possibility of rehabilitation. Some hold that a judicial system should have the role of educating and reforming those found guilty of crimes. If one is executed he will never have been educated and made a better person.
I can end only by quoting one of the wisest men to ever walk this Earth, who said simply: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” What did Mahatma Gandhi understand that our Congress does not?

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