A few thoughts on the death penalty.

I have written before about my opinions about capital punishment, namely that it is morally indefensible. It turns out that more and more people are agreeing with me, such as the state legislature of Maryland.

Earlier this year, in a move that got little attention, the Maryland legislature passed a bill abolishing the state’s death penalty.  It joins Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York as states which have dropped the death penalty in the past ten years.  At this point, eighteen states do not sentence people to death.

It’s not enough, but it is a start. Californians last year soundly defeated a proposition which would have abolished the state’s death penalty, but at least it made it to the ballot.

The fact that only some states offer the death penalty is one of my biggest objections to it. While I think there are very strong theological grounds for rejecting capital punishment in theory, it is how it is administered — or not — that creates the strongest case against putting people to death.

The fact of the matter is, you could commit the exact same crime, and whether you murdered in Chicago or Dallas would determine whether you were sentenced to death. One of the most horrific serial killers of the last twenty-five years, Jeffrey Dahmer, did not get the death penalty because he was in Wisconsin.

Interestingly enough, the religious makeup of Maryland may have had some impact on the legislatures action.  Maryland is majority Roman Catholic, and the church opposes capital punishment.  It’s a stand that often gets overlooked in all the (appropriate) screaming over their opposition to women’s reproductive freedom and LGBT rights.  I have strong objections to religions being involved in political decision-making, but in this case, I’ll take it.

When I hear of conservatives converting to Catholicism, such as Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, I think of this issue.  Pope John Paul II once famously chastised American Catholics as wanting a “cafeteria religion,” where they pick and choose what social positions were morally acceptable.  He was talking about abortion, contraception, and homosexuality, but it could be as easily said about capital punishment and the church’s call for economic justice and taking care of the poor.  Somehow, I don’t think people like Gingrich signed up for that.  It’s cafeteria religion, all right, just around a different set of issues.

In other capital punishment news, John Kruzel at Slate argues for bringing back the guillotine.  I actually am for this — the guillotine is a pretty humane way to kill people.  It also does not need to involve  doctors, and therefore doctors will not need to violate the Hippocratic Oath.   Of course, the reason the guillotine will never be instated as a method of execution is that it is too tough on spectators.  Chopping someone’s head off is a pretty gruesome business, after all.  It does not look like someone going to sleep.  It is a clear-cut and violent death.

This is exactly the reason it should be used.  If we as a nation are going to hold that it is okay to execute people, we should not be let off the hook from having to face what this barbaric practice entails.

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