SALT LAKE CITY — On Feb. 14, 35 priests and ecumenical leaders joined Bishop Oscar Solis of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City to oppose the death penalty in Utah and support passage of the recently introduced HB 369 Death Penalty Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer.
In a letter to Governor Gary R. Herbert and Utah legislators, the faith leaders stated that “the antidote to violence is not more violence.” (See text of the letter, below.)
The leaders represent Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Unitarian congregants from St. George to Brigham City and Wendover to Vernal. Among the signatories are Bishop Scott B. Hayashi of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, the Rev. Jerrod Lowry, pastor of Community Grace Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Curtis Price, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City and the Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The letter reads: “As people of faith who believe in the sanctity of life, the undersigned oppose the death penalty and the undeniable harm to life and dignity inherent in such state-sanctioned homicides.
“In a modern society with the measures to keep criminals incarcerated for life there are no longer compelling reasons to justify the death penalty. In fact, we are able to take advantage of our modern technologies and criminal justice practices that put us in an enviable position of being able to protect public safety without definitively denying criminals the change to reform.
“In other words, the antidote to violence is not more violence. Capital punishment is of particular concern because it adopts the moral calculus of the killer, who regards killing as an acceptable, even necessary, means to an end. Reliance on the death penalty diminishes us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life.
“A culture ultimately defines its moral character by the value it places on life, particularly those lives that seem most burdensome, inconsequential, or unworthy. If we truly believe we are all brothers and sisters, then we must recognize our brother or sister as clearly in the unrepentant inmate as we do in the law-abiding citizen. This doesn’t mean we condone the inmates actions; it means we protect his or her life, and potential for reconciliation.
“There are practical reasons to oppose the death penalty, as numerous studies attest. Even a cursory look at the Death Penalty Information Center’s website reveals that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent, more costly to carry out than a life without parole sentence, and still imposed in a manner akin to “being struck by lightning” (in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart.)
“We cannot overcome crime by executing criminals. We cannot restore the lives of victims by ending the lives of their murderers. The thousands of people of faith represented by this letter encourage the state to use punishments that provide restitution for victims, security for society, and the opportunity for rehabilitation to the convicted. Perhaps more importantly, we ask the state to remember that the death penalty is not a simple cost-benefit analysis, it is a calculated decision to take away a human life.
“We urge you to consider the efficacy and morality of the death penalty and join our efforts to build a just and peaceful society.”