The Death Penalty
Clerk urges President Clinton to stop federal executions
Reliability and fairness of death penalty are in
question, he says
(Note from Presbyterian News Service: On November 6, the
Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined a number of other religious leaders in
sending the following letter to President Clinton. -- Jerry L. Van Marter,
Presbyterian News Service, 10-November-2000)
Dear President Clinton:
As you are on the eve of your departure from office, the
nation is on the eve of the first federal executions in nearly forty
years. We write to urge that you declare an executive moratorium on
federal executions and grant clemency to David Paul Hammer and Juan Raul
Garza to ensure that the United States does not carry out these death
sentences at a time when the nation questions the reliability and fairness
of capital punishment.
The overwhelming majority of communities of faith are
united in their opposition to the death penalty. We address you as members
of religious organizations that minister daily to the profound suffering
that is caused when a life is taken by an act of violence. However, we are
called upon to promote life, even the lives of those who have taken a
life. We also have the mission of giving comfort to the children and other
loved ones of the condemned when the government carries out an execution.
Options to capital punishment, including life in prison without the
possibility of release, are available that will both protect society and
ensure that justice is done.
In the past year, religious communities have been joined
by a diverse chorus of American voices, including those of respected
members of all three branches of government, public figures across the
political spectrum, local and state governing bodies, civil rights
leaders, professional associations and grass roots organizations. At no
time since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, have Americans,
individually and collectively, expressed such grave reservations about
Doubts about the continued imposition of the death penalty concern not
only issues of wrongful convictions, incompetent counsel and prosecutorial
misconduct, but also the inadequacy of judicial review, the unequal
treatment of the poor and people of color, and geographic disparities. The
public and policymakers are facing the unpleasant reality that capital
punishment is most often reserved for those at the margins of society.
Until recently, the focus of criticism was largely on state capital
punishment systems. Now, however, serious questions regarding the fairness
of the administration of the federal death penalty are squarely before
We commend your forthright decision in August to grant
Mr. Garza a reprieve until December 12, 2000, so that he would have the
opportunity to seek clemency under new federal guidelines. Shortly before
you ordered the reprieve, you spoke of your concern about the
"disturbing racial composition" of federal death row and about
evidence that a handful of federal districts have accounted for more than
half of the cases in which federal capital prosecution has been sought.
When the Department of Justice survey of the federal death penalty was
released in September, White House spokesperson Jake Siewart confirmed
your view that "these numbers are troubling," and that more
information must be gathered to determine "more about how the system
works and what's behind those numbers," including "why
minorities in some geographic districts are disproportionately
We believe that even Americans who support capital
punishment will agree that no federal execution should proceed until these
questions are answered and the nation is assured that the federal death
penalty is neither biased nor arbitrary in its application.
In Mr. Hammer's case, the execution an individual without at least one
completed appeal of his conviction and death sentence -- irrespective of
his apparent, present desire to forgo such review -- is incompatible with
the interests of the United States in preserving the integrity and the
reliability of its justice system.
During your remarks at the Democratic National Convention, you spoke with
admiration and appreciation of President Carter's enduring contribution to
advancing human rights around the globe. Our Ambassador to France, Felix
Rohatyn, has written that the continued imposition of the death penalty
"casts a shadow" on our country's image as the flagship of
freedom and democracy. And, President Carter has now expressed his support
for a moratorium on state and federal executions. We are confident that
your decision to declare a moratorium -- an act of courage and leadership
-- would be respected by the nation and by our allies.
In closing, there is strong evidence that Americans are troubled that
capital punishment is not administered equitably, impartially, or
rationally and there is now growing support for a moratorium on
executions. To execute Mr. Hammer and Mr. Garza at a time of such ferment
and debate is to act hastily and precipitously. A declaration of an
executive moratorium and grants of clemency will acknowledge the
legitimacy of the reservations that are on the minds and in the hearts of
so many and assure the country that an investigation into questions
surrounding the federal death penalty will continue until satisfactory
answers are found.
We urge you to embrace this legacy.
Religious leaders praise
congressional passage of hate crimes legislation
[Press release from The Interfaith Alliance]
Washington, DC -September 13, 2000 -- Responding to the
passage of HCPA legislation by the U.S. Congress, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton
Gaddy, executive director of The Interfaith Alliance, issued the following
"I applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for
passing hate crimes legislation. Neither hate nor violence is a
traditional American value, both are abominations to democracy and
"Despite the ludicrous efforts of the religious
right to defeat HCPA through the manipulation of religion and scripture,
their exclusionary agenda did not prevail. The sacred scriptures of many
different religious traditions speak with dramatic unanimity on this
matter of hate. When true to the prophetic core of our various religions,
we cannot condemn hate and then refuse to act to stop hate and the
violence that hate foments upon us. Religion and government can work
together to create a society in which diverse people are safe as well as
"Amid a lot of election year talk about forging
partnerships between religion and government, here is the place for a
true, dynamic partnership that does not involve dangerous institutional
entanglements but reflects the highest integrity of both religion and
government. We in the inter-religious community will continue to promote
the primal moral values that nurture respect for the dignity and worth of
every person and thus expose and seek to eradicate hatred as a malignancy
of the mind and spirit. While it is true that legislation cannot remove
hate from the hearts and minds of individuals, we learned a long time ago
that legislation, like hate crimes legislation, can help to create a
society in which people are influenced by their government's unbending
intolerance of prejudice-based, hate-motivated violence.
"Today's action in the US House of Representatives
proves a significant step in the right direction, but the struggle to
eradicate hate from our society is not over."
for more from The Interfaith
|Texas prison chaplain
reflects on witnessing the reality of the death penalty
Jim Brazzil has served for the past .... as chaplain to
prisoners in Texas' notorious Huntsville prison as they are put to death
in accordance with sentences handed down to them by the State of Texas.
The 50-year-old Southern Baptist pastor has no comments
on the governor who has so firmly supported these death sentences. But he
does note the intensity of the experience, which he has gone through more
than 130 times.
"You watch that man take his last breath, and you
watch his eyes set and they just have that blank stare. . . . You can see
his shirt pounding, then all of a sudden you see it begin to slow and then
it stops," said Brazzil "The intensity of that moment --
sometimes you can feel the spirit leave -- I don't know how to describe
For the full article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, click
|For more on
death penalty issues,
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
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Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
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John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
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kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!