Local faith leaders oppose death penalty

This Ash Wednesday, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed into law a bill that repealed the state’s death penalty. Quinn’s decision was influenced largely by his communication with faith leaders, highlighting the great moral and spiritual dilemma of the death penalty system.

As leaders representing a variety of faith communities in Lawrence, we renew our call to end capital punishment in the Sunflower State as well. We believe the current provision for the death penalty sentence in Kansas is wrong from spiritual, moral and public policy perspectives.

As people of faith, we seek justice for all people. We firmly believe that those who commit crimes should be held accountable for their actions and that the needs of family members of murder victims must be addressed in the aftermath of murder.

There is growing evidence to suggest that the death penalty harms victim families. Imposing the death penalty often prolongs the suffering and delays the healing of the victim’s family members as they are forced to relive the trauma of the crime again and again while they endure the appeals process.

In addition to the stresses placed on victims’ families, the use of the death penalty also puts the state in danger of executing innocent people. We now know that the death penalty in this country has resulted in the execution of those who were innocent.

In addition, evidence shows that the death penalty is often unfairly applied due to factors such as race or geographic location. Furthermore, many studies suggest that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent; it does not prevent murders.

We also recognize the financial implications of the current policy. We believe that the death penalty is neither the highest priority nor the best use of the state’s limited financial resources. Instead, state funds should be used to support programs that prevent crime, improve education and provide services to the families of murder victims. We should use our resources to improve life, not end it.

Finally, we believe all human life is sacred and created by God, and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. As people of faith we believe in and affirm people’s capacity for change. We believe that no individual is beyond redemption and that our government should not condone policies that deny the prospect of redemption.

In 2010, the Kansas Senate was one vote short of passing legislation that would have repealed the Kansas death penalty. This year, another death penalty abolition bill, HB 2323, is under consideration in the Kansas House.

We urge the Kansas Legislature to abolish the death penalty in our state. Whether you approach the issue from a spiritual, ethical or policy perspective, the reasons to keep the Kansas death penalty just don’t add up.

— Joanna Harader is pastor of Peace Mennonite Church. Jill Jarvis is minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence. Thad Holcombe is campus minister of the Ecumenical Christian Ministries.