Tuesday, December 18, 2007

good news: no death

a continuing series noticing progress toward the Kingdom of God

On Monday, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine signed a bill outlawing the death penalty in that state and commuted the sentences of the eight prisoners currently on death row in New Jersey to life in prison without possibility of parole, the maxiumum penalty now available under New Jersey law. This is excellent news that finally begins to bring the United States in line with every other civilized government in the world.

The Governor argued that given the impossibility of creating a flawless judicial system it was immoral to perpetuate a system where innocent persons might be put to death. That is a real possibility. SInce 1973, 126 innocent persons have been released from death rows in 26 states (source deathpenaltyinfo.org). But even that is only one argument against the death penalty. The moral question to ask about the death penalty is not, "Does this person deserve to die?" but, "Do we want to be a society that kills human beings?" You can answer yes to the first question while still answering no the second.

The voices of murder victim survivors crying for "justice" are compelling but not persuasive. The death penalty offers no greater justice than does life in prison without parole. What does justice mean? If justice means putting things back the way they were, executing the murderer does not return the victims to life. If jsutice means punishing the mruderer in comparable ways to their crime well we don't do that anyway and that sense of jsutice brings up immoral motives of revenge. Life in prison without parole protects society from future crimes, expresses our maximum displeasure at their acts by imposing the maximum sentence and makes the statement much less ambiguously that our society holds human life to be sacred.

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