Supporters and opponents of the death penalty can use the Bible to argue either side. The Catholic church, and most mainline Protestant denominations, take the side of those who would abolish it. On the other hand, many evangelical denominations, such as Southern Baptists, are in favor of retaining it. Since that wing of Protestantism is dominant in Alabama, it’s no surprise that Alabama is one of four states that handed down two-thirds of the death sentences in 2012.
This past year, Florida added 21 inmates to its death row, California added 15, Texas added nine, and Alabama, whose population is much smaller than the others, condemned seven more to death.
Alabama and its cohorts are swimming against the tide since executions and new death sentences are down nationwide. “By every count,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, “the death penalty is declining and becoming less relevant.”
The obvious question is, why?
The answers are many.
The exoneration of people wrongly convicted has caused doubts about the justice of executions. Those who argue economics point out that the cost of a capital-murder trial and all the appeals that follow make the death sentence as costly as life imprisonment in many cases.
Studies also have raised serious questions about the death sentence as a deterrent since there is little evidence to support the contention that a person is less likely to commit a capital crime in a death-penalty state. Although advocates argue that execution deters the convicted from committing a capital crime again, life without parole accomplishes the same thing.
And then there is the ongoing debate over whether the death penalty is punishment or whether it is society’s vengeance being acted out — the sort of vengeance, opponents say, that should be left to the Lord. That is where we stand, in strong opposition to the death penalty.
With the death penalty falling out of favor in so many states and among certain religious groups, now is an appropriate time for legislators to take up the matter and, after thoughtful and prayerful consideration, bring Alabama into the column of states where the death penalty has been abandoned.