Time to reject bible-based death penalty

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

While Wisconsin's reputation for progressivism is sadly overrated, there is one fact, as a state native, that I remain very proud of: Wisconsin was the first U.S. state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. (A few states never adopted capital punishment in the first place.)

Wisconsin has only executed one person since becoming a state in 1848. John McCaffary was hanged in 1851 for drowning his wife Bridgett. He dangled gruesomely for 20 minutes while slowly strangling, as a crowd of thousands in Kenosha watched in horror. The death penalty was repealed in 1853.

Today, some 32 states still officially have capital punishment on their books, plus the federal government and the military. This puts the U.S. in the company of the worst despotic regimes and Islamist states.

While the root source of capital punishment may not be solely biblical, in the Western world, the bible is the sourcebook for the death penalty. "Life, for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth," as Exodus 21:22 barbarically commands. "An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind," as Gandhi reputedly observed.

The crimes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the convicted Boston Marathon bomber, are incomprehensible, horrific and cold-blooded. But it's cold-blooded for the U.S. government to execute him. It's so obvious: If killing is wrong, how can it be right for the government itself to sentence someone to death?

And, of course, Tsarnaev will become a martyr, at much greater taxpayer expense than the cost of keeping him imprisoned.

Perhaps not surprising in a nation where 70% are nominally Christian, 60% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty for Tsarnaev. But it's a credit to Massachusetts, which itself opposed the federal government's decision to seek the death penalty and has outlawed the state death penalty, that the figures were reversed: Only 30% supported the death penalty in this case.

One Boston couple, Bill and Denise Richard, lost a son in the bombing and were both injured. Their daughter lost a leg. But they still publicly opposed the death penalty for Tsarnaev. They wrote a poignant plea in the Boston Globe, "To end the anguish, drop the death penalty."

"We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul." A death sentence, they noted, "could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives."

They concluded, "We honor those who were lost and wish continued strength for all those who were injured. We believe that now is the time to turn the page, end the anguish, and look toward a better future — for us, for Boston, and for the country."

It's time for the United States and the individual states to likewise "turn the page, end the anguish, and look toward a better future," by joining the rest of the civilized world in rejecting the death penalty.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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