Monday, January 20, 2014

The Death Penalty: Endless Debate

When I think of subjects on which to write, I can think of many more pleasant subjects than the death penalty. It's been a subject debated for centuries, with both sides having fervent advocates. You will rarely convince one side or the other to change its mind. It is one of those subjects that I think has to be a matter of individual conscience. But I would like to make some observations about it. First, read this article about a botched Ohio execution that fired up the debate again—both over the death penalty itself and the method used.

Okay, here are my comments. One, it ultimately does not matter WHAT method a state chooses to use, and there are several. There will be litigation filed to stop it on the grounds that said method is "cruel and unusual punishment." Lethal injection has been increasingly opted by states as it's been seen as more "humane" than past methods: electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, shooting, decapitation, etc. It's been compared to putting a pet to sleep, which concerns some because the process has been so sanitized that the point has been lost—that the death penalty is just that— a PENALTY. Or better yet, a PUNISHMENT for heinous crime.

But now, lethal injection is being challenged. Curious that all the drugs used to carry out lethal injection are made overseas, so that now other countries or drugmakers are able to force their particular moral qualms on the United States' legal system by refusing to ship their drugs here for that purpose. Whatever the case, no matter what the drug, no matter how quick and ostensibly painless, someone will litigate.

The main thing I suppose that irritates me about these arguments here on this side of the water is the same thing that irritates me with other "constitutional" arguments put forward by lawyers and activists. Consider with me the following fact. The men who WROTE the Constitution of the United States were ALIVE and WELL when executions were carried out in their respective states. The men who wrote the Constitution—if they had objections to execution—would have stated clearly and without reservation that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment had they thought so. They did not. They also did not seem to object to the methods used at the time to carry out executions. In those days, hanging or shooting were the most common methods. But the Founders did not consider those methods or the DEATH PENALTY ITSELF "cruel or unusual punishment."

To me, that sort of ends the matter. If one does not like the death penalty, fine, advocate for its repeal. But do not call it unconstitutional, or call it cruel and unusual punishment. It is not, by definition. It is not, keeping in mind the views of the men who did the defining and the writing of the Constitution. Now, society may well have changed in its attitudes toward certain matters, and that is expected. Even the authors of the Constitution recognized that there may be need to make changes down the road, so they incorporated an amendment process—a process that was purposely made very difficult. But even without making constitutional amendments, a state has the right to make its own laws about its criminal justice system and related penalties when its laws are broken. If a state decides that it no longer wants a death penalty, it is perfectly within its rights not to have one. It is also within a state's rights to have a death penalty without running afoul of the Constitution.

Next point. I also have enormous problems with those who try to argue that the death penalty somehow violates Christian ethics, morality, Scripture etc. It does not. Romans 13 makes it very clear that the state bears the sword for a purpose—to restrain evildoers. Swords are not used to administer spankings. Swords are used to kill. There are numerous other Scriptures that could be cited. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. God Himself ordained the death penalty. Of course, one must make the distinction between the Law of Moses, its intent, and acknowledging that as Christians, we are not under the Law. But the PRINCIPLE is there governing justice carried out through human agency. A key problem (or debate) we have is between the principles of "retributive" justice vs. "rehabilitative" justice. The answer is that both are appropriate within certain guidelines.

Let's be frank, there is no "pleasant" way to die. Death is ugly. It's a tragedy. It is horrific. I don't want people to die. I also don't want people to murder, rape, and commit other evil acts that require punishment. As the ultimate punishment that can be inflicted by a state, the death penalty needs to be administered with great care. As fallen human beings (all the more so outside of Christ), our justice system will never be perfect. But we must have justice systems. There are evil people out there who must be restrained, even at "the point of a sword." Final justice will be meted out at the throne of God.

I pray that day comes sooner rather than later.


Anonymous said...

They were also alive for slavery. Societies evolve.

Solameanie said...

Hence, as I sad, the amendment process.