We applaud and praise Governor O’Malley’s moral courage to place a moratorium on state-sponsored executions in Maryland. We hope and pray that this commission will conclude that the death penalty should be abolished in this great state.
For decades, The Episcopal Church has voiced strong public opposition to capital punishment. Our essential question today is whether, without exception, the death penalty should be imposed on someone convicted of murdering another human being. Our unequivocal answer is “no.” The Christian faith is rooted in both testaments of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In the Bible, we find that every human being is given life by God, and only God the righteous Judge has the right to deny life. Of course, we understand that the state must seek justice and prosecute wrongdoing, but we cannot condone a decision by the state to pronounce a sentence of death for wrongdoing—no matter how violent and brutal the crime of the perpetrator may have been. Because of our belief in a just and moral God, there is simply no moral justification for the state to execute a child of God in the name of justice.
The Episcopal Church has carefully studied the application of the death penalty in many states. Invariably, in each case, we have concluded that the death penalty is immoral, unjust and ineffective. It is immoral, first of all, because as Christians we are commanded to adhere to the ethics of Jesus who continually forbade violence as a means to solve problems that are caused by evil. Second, the death penalty is unjust because of the hugely disproportionate number of poor and black defendants who receive the death sentence. It is a sad truth that in our society, it is the wealthy are able to “buy” their way out of being executed by the state. As one prominent Episcopalian lawyer in Maryland told me recently, “true justice comes with a price tag—justice paid is justice won.” And third, the death penalty is ineffective in that it has never been shown to have deterred anyone from committing a violent crime, nor has it lowered the murder rate in any state that regularly executes its most violent criminals.
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