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The Death Penalty

Stated 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 capital punishment.

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 you.

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 represented."

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 statement:

"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 spirituality.

"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 free.

"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 Alliance

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 it."

For the full article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, click here.

For more on death penalty issues,

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

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.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including 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 Flushing, NY.


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 thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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