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Free Death Penalty Essays: Religious Perspectives of Capital Punishment

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Religious Perspectives on Capital Punishment

 

Travelling around the world, this paper presents the various religious perspectives evidenced in recent actions taken regarding the death penalty.

 

In St. Lucia, regional Roman Catholic Bishops, at the Antilles Episcopal Conference held as part of the Antilles Eucharist Congress held in St Lucia in May, publicly stated their wish to see the abolition of the death penalty. The president of the conference, Edgerton Clarke, Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica, said that while he and his colleagues were mindful of the support for capital punishment in the region they saw life as being of tremendous value, and hoped for the abolition of the death penalty. Capital punishment was one of several issues discussed at the Episcopal Conference which is a forum through which Caribbean bishops examine what is happening in the church and society. The Congress was attended by some 20,000 Catholics from the regional and international community.

 

In Italy, at a papal mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II at Rome's Regina Coeli Prison on 9 July, prayers were offered for prisoners on death row who were awaiting the end of their existence, and for those kept in inhuman conditions. ''May the death penalty, an unworthy punishment still used in some countries, be abolished throughout the world'' the Pope said.

 

During the year 2000, the Jubilee Year of the Roman Catholic Church, the Coliseum in Rome has been lit up with a bright white light every time a country abolished the death penalty or announced a moratorium on executions. It was also illuminated if a death sentence was commuted or a prisoner sentenced to death was found to be innocent and released.

 

In the Russian Federation, meeting in Moscow, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on 16 August called for an end to the death penalty. The church gave as its reasons for opposing the death penalty the fact that it can make a judicial error irreparable and also because the penalty causes controversy in society.

 

In the USA, in February the pastor of the White House, the Reverend Philip Wogaman, senior minister at Washington's Foundry Methodist Church, called for a review of the death penalty, adding his voice to those concerned that innocent people have been condemned and that sentencing is prone to racial bias.

 

``Maybe there are circumstances in which historically one can justify this.

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I'm not sure there are anymore,'' the Reverend said in a sermon attended by the President, ``I hope we will be in for a season of serious re-examination of that issue.''

 

In May in California Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles which is the largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States, urged the state governor to issue a moratorium on executions. He said that the California authorities had an obligation to thoroughly review the operation of the death penalty in the light of growing evidence that innocent people may have been condemned to death in error. In a letter the cardinal stated that he believed that an objective study would provide substantial factual data to support moral and ethical questions raised by the Catholic bishops of California and the United States regarding the death penalty.

 

On 20 November a letter was delivered to the White House signed by 40 religious and political leaders asking the President to declare a moratorium on federal executions. A similar letter, circulated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and signed by more than 50 religious leaders, was sent to the President on 28 November.

 

In Pakistan, Mohammad Yousuf Ali, aged about 50 years and a member of a small Sufi order, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death on 5 August in Lahore, Pakistan. He was convicted of blasphemy under section 295C of the Pakistani Penal Code which carries a mandatory death sentence for allegedly defiling the holy name of the Prophet Mohammad. He was also convicted on related charges and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment with hard labour and fined - to be served and paid before his execution.



Less than a week after Alabamahalted the failed execution of a terminally ill prisoner whose veins were not suitable for intraveneous injection, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of another Alabama prisoner whose medical condition, his lawyers say, make him constitutionally unfit for execution. Strokes have slurred Vernon Madison's speech and left him legally blind, incontinent, unable to walk independently, and with no memory of the offense for which he was sentenced to death. Madison's vascular dementia, his lawyers argue, make him incompetent to be executed. This is the third time since 2016 that Madison's case has come before the Court. In May 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted Madison a stay of execution to consider his competency claim. At that time, state prosecutors asked the Court to lift the stay, but with one seat vacant from the death of Justice Scalia, the Court split 4-4, leaving the stay in place. Ten months later, citing uncontroverted evidence that Madison has "memory loss, difficulty communicating, and profound disorientation and confusion," the Eleventh Circuit ruled in Madison's favor, finding him incompetent to be executed. Alabama prosecutors again asked the Supreme Court to intervene. On November 6, 2017, the Court agreed to review the case and in a unanimous unsigned opinion reversed the circuit court's decision. The Court explained that, under restrictions on federal habeas corpus review of state decisions imposed by the Congress in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the federal courts were required to defer to state-court decisions under most circumstances. While expressing "no view on the merits of the underlying question outside of the AEDPA context," the Court ruled that "the state court’'s determinations of law and fact were not “so lacking in justification” as to give rise to error “beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, concurred. However, they believed "[t]he issue whether a State may administer the death penalty to a person whose disability leaves him without memory of his commission of a capital offense is a substantial question not yet addressed by the Court." If the issue reached the Court in an appropriate procedural posture, they wrote, "the issue would warrant full airing." The Court's ruling cleared the way for Madison to be executed, and the State of Alabama set a January 25, 2018 execution date. In response, Madison's lawyers, led by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, presented the state court with additional evidence of Madison's deteriorating condition and new evidence that the doctor whose medical opinion had provided the court's basis for finding Madison competent had been addicted to drugs, was forging prescriptions, and had since been arrested. The state court denied relief without an evidentiary hearing and Madison's lawyers—emphasizing that this was no longer a habeas corpus case—asked the Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution to review the case. On the evening of the 25th, the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution, halting Madison's execution so it could decide whether to review his claim. On February 26, the Court voted to review the case to determine whether the Eighth Amendment prevents a state from executing a prisoner whose mental and physical condition prevents him from having memory of the crime for which he was convicted. The Court may now review the issue unencumbered by the limitations on habeas corpus cases. The Court will likely hear argument in the fall and a decision is expected by June 2019. 

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