Death Penalty Inconsistent with Life

Last month the Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote that the death penalty for child rape is unconstitutional. With Kennedy v. Louisiana the highest court in the land has given America a wonderful gift: it has reminded us that life is the highest value there is; the life of humans, of all the species, of nature.

Our repulsion and disgust over a father raping his 8-year-old daughter does not trump the value of life, of all life, even that of the rapist; just like our justified anger against Osama bin Laden cannot lead us to pledge that if he is captured he will be executed (which may well violate the Geneva Conventions)—a theme the press has been pursuing again during the last few days. That others do not respect life does not provide the rest of us with an excuse to do likewise. The life of the rapist, the life of bin Laden, the life of women and children dying by the thousands in Darfur—all life is precious.

When we claim that the value of all life, of all species, and of nature, is the highest value there is, we are saying that life—all life—has the greatest worth; that nothing is more important. We are saying that life has to be our fundamental moral option: if what we are contemplating doing protects and enhances life, then it is decent, it is good, and it is moral; if it kills, thwarts, or endangers life, then it is indecent, it is bad, and it is immoral. If the USA as a society (we the people organized in ways that interconnect us), and as a nation (the people plus the government) claim life as one of our inalienable rights, then we cannot be in favor of the death penalty for anyone, no matter how heinous the crime committed.

Politicians in office or seeking to be elected to office represent us the people and decide for us—how to use our resources, what to make the priorities of society, how we as a nation relate to the rest of the world. I find it morally disgusting that any of them would disagree with the decision of the Supreme Court to vote against the death penalty, even if the person in question is a child rapist. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court should indeed go back to the decision it once made regarding the unconstitutionality of the death penalty. The Supreme Court should oppose the death penalty, the execution of men and women, no matter what the circumstance.

Those who are elected would do well to remember that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution, which affirms life as an inalienable right—and it does not affirm only “some” life. And those seeking to be elected, that you would be against the life of some, well, I am reconsidering my support of you! If you are for the death penalty of a rapist, what assurance do I have that you will not find another “right reason” in the future to be in favor of endangering, thwarting, or ending the life of some other sort of person?

Any attempt to say that those seeking to be elected have a special dispensation because if they do not speak against the decision of the Supreme Court they would not be elected makes a mockery of truth and the obligation candidates have to make known their positions. Politicians, elected or seeking to be elected, must remember at all times that holding office or getting elected to office does not trump life. Their moral responsibility is to lead the nation in ways that are decent, good, and moral, in ways that uphold the Constitution. This moral responsibility must assert itself over, way over, their desire to be elected.

Finally, those who are for the death penalty in some cases, which means that they could possibly be for the death penalty in any case, I believe are, in the long run, seeking revenge. Those who suffer injustice are often the first to let go of revenge. Those of us who, knowingly or not, are complicity with structures of injustice and commit personal acts of injustice, often seek to hide behind self-righteous indignation—often a code word for revenge. That different segments of the population, of those whose votes the candidates want, choose to be for the death penalty, cannot be—is not—a valid reason for the candidates to oppose the decision of the Supreme Court against the death penalty. Please, politicians –elected and seeking to be elected—reconsider your position. I humbly make my own the words from the Book of Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Yes, please, “choose life.”

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