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NEW YORK, N.Y., July 9, 1968.
Senator PHILIP A. HART,
DEAR SENATOR HART: Your last letter to me relative to S. 1760 had left me with the impression that you would have called me to testify before the hearings were closed.
However, I am submitting for the record the proposed policy statement on abolishing the death penalty which I sponsored in the National Council of Churches. (34 denominations; 40 million membership).
Having had its first reading before the General Board in June, we anticipated its formal adoption September 13th in Houston, Tex.
The statement encompasses all the familiar arguments in addition to offering a Christian rationale for abolition.
Reference is made to Our Savior's attitude to the death penalty in His protection of the woman taken in adultery, suggesting to the executioners to throw the first stone, if any be without sin.
We know He Himself was the victim of capital punishment.
Be guided by the September date in identifying the enclosed as "proposed", or "adopted" by the National Council.
Asking Almighty God's blessing on this undertaking for its success, and on you for your great charity in sponsoring this genuinely progressive legislation, I remain,
Rt. Rev. BARTHOLOMEW FOX.
ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY
In support of national movements to abolish the death penalty and to be consistent with previously recorded positions of a substantial number of member communions, the National Council of Churches hereby declares its opposition to capital punishment in federal and state jurisdictions of the United States.
RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL POSITIONS OF MEMBER COMMUNIONS
Member communions have set forth arguments for the abolition of the death penalty which are summarized as follows:
(1) the belief in the inherent worth of human life and the dignity of human personalty as gifts of God;
(2) a Christian preference for redemptive rehabilitation in contrast to primitive and punitive retribution;
(3) the frustration of God's redemptive power in the soul of the offender by prematurely killing him;
(4) the lack of factual substantiation for claims that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to commission of capital crimes;
(5) the brutalization of the society which exhibits its disregard for the sanctity of human life by imposing the death penalty;
(6) agreement with Thomas Jefferson's eloquent comment, "I shall ask for the abolition of the punishment of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment presented to me;'
(7) the observation that abolition of capital punishment has not led to an increase in the homicide rates in those states where it has been legislated; (8) evidence of de facto discrimination in imposition of the death penalty whereby poor defendants are executed because they cannot afford the legal talent which the wealthy can employ;
(9) belief that the threat of death explicit in the judicial sentence is cruel and inhuman punishment and that making a target of the condemned militates against his peace of soul and his eventual reconciliation with God;
(10) belief that the protection of society does not require the deliberate killing of an individual but that it is effectively assured by non-lethal penalties and a program of rehabilitation.
We find these arguments persuasive. In addition, further arguments can be cited.
HOPES FOR A HUMANITARIAN AMERICA
Seventy five nations of the world have abolished the death penalty. The United States should do likewise.
A long delay in execution of the death penalty once it has been imposed so often has subjected the convicted person to psychological, if not physical, cruelty of incredible proportions.
Once executed the death penalty is irreversible. Later discovery of new evidence which raises questions about the guilt of the convicted person, or in some instances proves his innocence, cannot restore to him the right to justice.
FURTHER CHRISTIAN CONSIDERATIONS
As Christians we acknowledge that one of the most crucial events in the history of our Faith, the execution of Jesus on the Cross, had its origins in capital punishment, As Christians we are inspired to proclaim the gospel of the subjugation of brutality. As Christ overcame death, mankind is liberated from that law which exacts a life for a life.
As members of a democratic society which tolerates capital punishment, we are collectively guilty of throwing the first stone by killing the offender in whose death we all participate, and all are culpable. Aware of our own frailties, we hesitate to throw any stones. It was on the occasion of the Woman Taken in Adultery, a capital offense under the law of His day, that Christ rendered His judgment on the death sentence.
In view of the foregoing, the National Council of Churches urges abolition of the death penalty under Federal law and, more importantly, within the several states.
In addition, we note that while thirteen states have abolished the death penalty, thirty-seven have yet to enact such legislation. The National Council of Churches urges member denominations to promote the necessary legislation, and to work on all levels, particularly in the states, to effect eventual abolition of capital punishment from the American scene.
American Baptist Convention: Statement on Capital Punishment, Adopted Rochester, New York, June 7, 1960.
American Society of Friends, The Five Years Meeting of Friends, held at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, Seventh Month, 14-21, 1960: "Capital Punishment."
Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church of North America: Statement on Capital Punishment, 1957.
Lutheran Church in America, June 1966: "Capital Punishment."
Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), International Convention, Cleveland, Ohio, October 11-16, 1957: Statement on Capital Punishment.
Church of the Brethren: (a) Statement on Capital Punishment, Adopted by 1957 Annual Conference; (b) Statement on Capital Punishment, Adopted by 1959 Annual Conference, June 20, 1959.
General Conference Mennonite Church, Central District Conference, Goshen, Indiana, April 23-26, 1959: Statement on Capital Punishment.
The Methodist Church, Doctrine and Discipline of The Methodist Church, 1964: "The Methodist Social Creed" par. 1820, p. 661.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., 59th General Convention, Florida, October 16, 1956: "Capital Punishment."
Council for Christian Social Action, United Church of Christ: "Capital Punishment" Adopted January 30, 1962.
The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 177th General Assembly, 1965: "Capital Punishment."
Presbyterian Church in the United States, 106th General Assembly, 1966: "Capital Punishment."
Title: Abolition of Death Penalty.
1. Consideration of Member Churches.
2. Public desclaration.
3. Guidance to the Council in its action on relevant legislation. Originating Unit: Department of Social Justice.
a. Situation which makes such a statement timely and advisable.-A substantial number of member communions have taken a position against the use of the death penalty in state and federal courts. Legislation is currently pending before the Congress of the United States to abolish the use of the death penalty in the federal courts. Thirteen states have already abandoned the use of the death penalty in state jurisdictions. Thirty-seven have not, but movements are being undertaken in many of them to do likewise.
b. The theological basis of the Statement.-As Christians we acknowledge that one of the most crucial events in the history of our Faith, the execution of Jesus on the Cross, had its origins in capital punishment. As Christians we are inspired to proclaim the gospel of the subjugation of brutality. As Christ overcame death, mankind is liberated from that law which exacts a life for a life. As members of a democratic society which tolerates capital punishment, we are collectively guilty of throwing the first stone by killing the offender in whose death we all participate, and all are culpable. Aware of our own frailties, we hesitate to throw any stones. It was on the occasion of the Women Taken in Adultery, a capital offense under the law of His day, that Christ rendered His judgment on the death sentence.
c. Proposed statement to be used in publication and distribution of this document-regarding the nature, status, and sponsorship of the document, "Statement adopted by the General Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
d. Titles and dates of previous actions dealing with this subject. Actions by member communions
American Baptist Convention.
Statement on Capital Punishment,
Adopted: Rochester, New York, June 7, 1960 .
American Society of Friends,
The Five Years Meeting of Friends,
held at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana,
Seventh Month 14-21, 1960 "Capital Punishment."
Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church of North America,
Statement of Capital Punishment, 1957.
Lutheran Church in America,
June 1966 "Capital Punishment."
Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ),
October 11-16, 1957-Statement on Capital Punishment.
Church of the Brethren,
(a) Statement on Capital Punishment, Adopted by 1957 Annual Conference (b) Statement on Capital Punishment, Adopted by 1959 Annual Conference,
June 20, 1959.
General Conference Mennonite Church, Central District, Conference, Goshen, Indiana-April 23-26, 1959, Statement on Capital Punishment.
The Methodist Church, Doctrine and Discipline of The Methodist Church, 1964, "The Methodist Social Creed" par. 1820, p. 661.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., 59th General Convention, Florida, October 16, 1956, "Capital Punishment."
Council for Christain Social Action, United Church of Christ, "Capital Punishment"-Adopted January 30, 1962.
The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 177th General Assembly, 1965"Capital Punishment."
Presbyterian Church in the United States, 106th General Assembly, 1966— "Capital Punishment."
HIGH COST OF DEATH
What about the cynical argument that it is cheaper to kill a capital offender than to maintain him in prison for the rest of his life? Persons who make this argument are really saying that capital offenders should be executed not on the basis of their crimes, but because poor penal administration makes it likely that they will not be self-supporting while in prison. A society's poor management of its prisons, however, is a bizarre rationalization for executing people. Even so, the argument that it is cheaper to legally execute a man than to maintain him in prison for life in complete idleness, and as a pure consumer, is simply not true and rests upon public ignorance of the pertinent facts.
The way to deal with the economic argument in favor of the death penalty is to make estimates and count dollars. The costs to be compared would be the price of maintaining prisoners of normal life expectancy, after their age of conviction, in prison for the balance of their lives as compared to the difference in price of capital and non-capital legal processes leading to an execution or a life sentence. In order to make such a comparison it would be necessary to detail the procedural steps, the personnel involved, the time intervals involved and the cost of facilities in capital and non-capital cases. It would also be necessary to have knowledge about the nature of the offense, the offender and the victim; the reaction of law enforcement, prosecution, judicial and jail personnel; and the attitude of the mass media and the public to the case; for all of these enter, in one way or another, into the ultimate money costs related to dealing with capital and non-capital cases. Over against all this would be the cost of maintaining an offender in prison at a cost of about $1,500 per year for his normal life expectancy which, on the average, would be for about 30 years after conviction.
Apparently, the general public knows very little about the differences in cost between the handling of a capital case and a non-capital case. Almost every phase of the capital case is more complex, more time consuming and more costly. We need only advert to such things as the selection of a death penalty jury; the length of capital trials; the costs of both prosecution and defense, both of which, more frequently than not, are borne by the state; the printing costs incident to motions and multiple appeals; the special detention and handling costs of guarding and transporting capital offenders; and the costs of rehearsing and ultimately carrying out an execution. The printing costs alone, of briefs for both prosecution and defense, in the appeal process, frequently run into tens of thousands of dollars. I do not want to belabor the issue, but in an unpublished study I made of this question, I found that thirty years of imprisonment cost the state about $45,000, assuming no cost-offsetting activity on the part of the prisoner. By way of comparison, the costs of a capital trial and appeals, special security handling in court and jail and the rehearsals and
carrying out of an execution, were in excess of $60,000. Capital punishment is by no means cheaper than life imprisonment, and the jurisdiction that maintains it pays for it dearly in both money and human costs.
ANTIDOTE TO LYNCHING?
The argument in favor of capital punishment that a community deprived of legal killing will resort to illegal killing in the form of lynching, is probably the one that is most easily demolished. Historically, lynching has been more widely practiced in the southern than in the northern states. All of the southern states have capital punishment and they have all applied the death penalty more frequently than any northern state. To cite only the example, let us again revert to the state of Georgia. During the period in 1882 to 1951 there were 530 lynchings in this state. In the same period, the state of Georgia executed 342 persons. Similar comparisons could be made in the case of other southern states. Now, while it is true that lynchings have declined drastically, almost to the vanishing point, the historical evidence indicates that the presence of the death penalty in the southern states did not prevent southern communities from resorting to lynchings.
In conclusion it may be well to point out some general trends in homicides and executions that pose some difficulties for those who would maintain that capital punishment has any relationship to murder, i.e., the problem to which it is allegedly addressed as a specific remedy. The population of the United States in 1940 was roughly 132 million, and in 1960 it was roughly 180 million, an increase of about 36%. The number of homicides in 1940 was 7,540 and in 1960 it was 8,971, an increase of only about 19% in comparison to the 36% increase in population. Apparently the homicide rate is lagging behind the increase in population. Secondly, for the period 1930-39 the average number of executions per year was 151, in the period 1940-49 it was 106, in the period 1950-59 it was 60. In the year, 1961 only 42 executions were carried out in the United States. Thirdly, in the city of Chicago, during the period 1923-30 the average number of policemen killed and wounded per year was 25, in the period 1931-40 it was 14, and in the period 1940-54 it was 4. Yet, during these periods the situation as to the presence or absence of capital punishment in various jurisdictions underwent no decisive change. That is, those jurisdictions that had capital punishment, still have it, and those that had abolished it are still without it. Yet we see a decisive increase in the population, a relative decrease in the number of homicides, a sharp decline in the number of Chicago policemen killed and wounded and a similarly sharp decline in the number of executions carried out in the United States; while the presence or absence of the death penalty in various jurisdictions has undergone no significant change.
In short, capital punishment is the constant while all the other factors vary over time. In the light of these relationships it would be foolhardy for anyone to maintain that the death penalty, or any alleged deterrent quality attributed to it, is the crucial factor related to homicide. And yet, that is what those who favor the death penalty must prove unless they are simple sentimentalists. Far from being the crucial factor, however, the death penalty is simply irrelevant and has no relationship to homicide whatsoever. It is a cruel, expensive and demoralizing irrelevancy that can only serve the irrational impulses that survive in men.
The society or community that maintains capital punishment, and believes in its efficacy as a deterrent to homicide, may best be compared to a primitive and superstitious tribe of savages who credulously engage in a rain dance to produce the rain they need and desire. Their beliefs are erroneous, their activity is irrelevant and when the rains come they are the product of entirely different causes than those that the savages thought important. The savages and their irrational rituals have long since departed from the plains of Illinois but in the field of crime and punishment we are still maintaining the irrational tradition of applying irrelevant measures to serious social problems.
No matter how strongly we may feel about an irrelevant remedy like capital punishment, it will not help us to deal effectively with a serious social problem like murder. Capital punishment is indefensible on rational grounds. Ever since Socrates and Jesus Christ were made the victims of the death penalty, men have questioned the wisdom of its use. It is high time that this survival from the ages of superstition and cruelty be removed from our midst. Capital punishment
should be abolished.