A U.S. District Court judge rules that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional.
July 1, 2002 9:18 AM   Subscribe

A U.S. District Court judge rules that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional. In related news, the Washington Post reports that everyone's favorite cabinet member, Mr. Ashcroft, has been pushing for the death penalty in federal cases and "frequently overruling his own prosecutors in the process". Here we go...
posted by gimonca (68 comments total)
 
The nation (in reaction to another recent judicial ruling) has declared itself fairly overwhelmingly to be "under God." In that light, the debate on this death penalty ruling will be interesting -- does a nation "under God" execute people? (The Taliban had no problem with this question.) I'm awaiting a succinct explanation from the religious right on how capital punishment squares with Christian doctrine.
posted by beagle at 9:31 AM on July 1, 2002


[...everyone's favorite cabinet member, Mr. Ashcroft]

No way - Rumsfield is far more popular (even in conservative circles) than Ashcroft.

Of course, you could be using sarcasm which, no doubt, spells trouble for the thread.

[I'm awaiting a succinct explanation from the religious right on how capital punishment squares with Christian doctrine.]

Basically it comes down to this. Jesus faced the issue rather 'up close' and never questioned the right of the state to execute him. I mean, it was an ideal time to bring it up, don't ya think?

That said - I'm against it unless there is about a 99.9999999999% assurance that the person is guilty. Even then I'd have qualms. Why not just lock the guilty part up for life?
posted by revbrian at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2002


Foldy's coming.
Lord have mercy on us
posted by matteo at 9:37 AM on July 1, 2002


Legal scholars believe he is the first judge to declare the current federal death penalty law unconstitutional since it was enacted in 1994.

This is a new law, so it doesn't apply to individual states, who conduct most executions.

does a nation "under God" execute people? (The Taliban had no problem with this question.) I'm awaiting a succinct explanation from the religious right on how capital punishment squares with Christian doctrine.

I love it when athiests lump Christians (fundamentalist or not) in the same boat with Islamic fundamentalists. Its a dirty trick. How about I make subtle accusations comparing your average modern athiest/agnostic to say, Josef Stalin?
posted by insomnyuk at 9:39 AM on July 1, 2002


I'm awaiting a succinct explanation from the religious right on how capital punishment squares with Christian doctrine.

Do you know anything about Christianity? Both the Hebrew Scriptures (aka "Old Testament") and the New Testament support the idea that the state can legitimately punish evildoers with "the sword."

Jesus taught individuals to forgive their enemies, but a judge and jury are (ideally) meting out punishment are discharging the duties of the state, not acting out personal revenge against an enemy.

The New Testament and Christian tradition also recognize that the state has the potential to be evil and unjust, so it is certainly possible to critcize a given implementation of the death penalty, as the current Pope does.
posted by straight at 9:47 AM on July 1, 2002


[This decision] would have no effect on cases in state courts in the 38 states that have capital punishment.

Surely it'll be cited as a precedent in state capital cases?
posted by RylandDotNet at 9:50 AM on July 1, 2002


Do you know anything about Christianity?
I'm sorry, that was unnecessarily insulting and sarcastic. But I do wish outsiders would make a little more attempt to understand Christianity before they start making pronouncements about whether whether they are being consistent or not. (Plenty of inconsistencies to call us on without making up new ones!)
posted by straight at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2002


[How about I make subtle accusations comparing your average modern athiest/agnostic to say, Josef Stalin?]

You can't be subtle on something like this, haven't you been paying attention!? You're supposed to be all wild and breathless and 'The sky is falling' about it!
posted by revbrian at 9:53 AM on July 1, 2002


[I'm awaiting a succinct explanation from the religious right on how capital punishment squares with Christian doctrine.]

I thought we already discussed the sepearation of
chuch and state????
So how can they be right, the religious. I can tell you what my faith says, but, I'm sure that to be a pun too.

And I do agree, our judical system lacks.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2002


misspelled, the following sorry
separation, church, & judicial.
Done this too many times, can I get a different color for the "post" button. Or maybe my aim needs adjustment.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2002


Karma police
arrest this man,
he talks in maths,
he buzzes like a fridge,
he's like a detuned radio. [gpr]
posted by insomnyuk at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2002


Basically it comes down to this. Jesus faced the issue rather 'up close' and never questioned the right of the state to execute him.

Just because Jesus performed his task and willingly went to death does not mean he approved of state executions, but I think I can come up with an interpretation that is as obviously self-serving as that one: Jesus never questioned a woman's right to abortion on demand, obviously he had no problem with it.

Also, he was big into whipping money-changers. Let's all go kick a banker's ass.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:16 AM on July 1, 2002


Foldy's coming.

Waaaaay too much information there, matteo.
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2002


Ty Webb: only if the banker is trying to set up shop in my church. I'd prefer to kick the ass of all those christian schlock merchants out there.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:21 AM on July 1, 2002


As much as I love the fact that the thread has devolved into an argument about Christian doctrines, I have something else I want to say.

How much do you want to bet that the GOP will tar this decision as "yet another judge out of step with the American people" and use it as a second wedge (along with the 9th Circuit Pledge ruling) to push the Senate to confirm all of Bush's judicial nominees?
posted by Chanther at 10:21 AM on July 1, 2002


There's a lot of different directions that this could go in:

--The Justice department using its powers to work around the wishes of states. Compare medical marijuana, right-to-die laws, and so on. Note that a few decades ago, the shoe would have been on the other political foot: the right wing was crying "states' rights" to avoid complying with federal civil rights legislation. Now, a right-wing administration is saying "states can't pick and choose which federal laws to honor" (per the Wash. Post article). And you know, the guy does have kind of a point.

--Prosecutors making a plea bargain, then turning around and saying "we changed our minds--we want you to hang anyway".

--Arizona recently released a guy from death row who was the 100th person to have his death sentence overturned since 1976. But: the feds say that all of their death sentences, 31 since 1986(?), have been upheld, none overturned. Do the feds know something the various state courts don't?

--This is the third big anti-capital-punishment court decision in the last couple of weeks. Trend? Fluke?

(revbrian-- "favorite" equals "controversial" with a dollop of sarcasm, yes)
posted by gimonca at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2002


I love it when athiests lump Christians (fundamentalist or not) in the same boat with Islamic fundamentalists. Its a dirty trick. How about I make subtle accusations comparing your average modern athiest/agnostic to say, Josef Stalin?

...Or even that all Christians feel the same about everything. Can we not have dissent within the church? If not, them I'm screwed.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:25 AM on July 1, 2002


I really wish this ruling would cause some Americans to really think about capitol punishment.. but I'm afraid it will just be overturned and forgotten. Kinda sad really.
posted by epoh at 10:29 AM on July 1, 2002


I also think that it is really a misunderstanding to portray advocacy of capital punishment as a Christian thing. After all, some of the strongest advocacy against capital punishment comes from Christian activist groups. Various atheists are split on the morality of the death penalty as well. It looks like that the death penalty dispute cuts across religious lines. A part of the reason why this gets viewed as a Christian thing probably comes from the success of the religious right to portray themselves as representatives of American Christianity while the religious middle and left tends to stay in the background.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:32 AM on July 1, 2002


Ty Webb: Also, he was big into whipping money-changers. Let's all go kick a banker's ass.

The truth of the matter -- the money-changers were there to convert "heathen" money into "temple" money. Only specially clean currency could be used to pay the fees for temple sacrifices, so if you came in with shekels or drachmas, you needed to get things changed out.... There was, of course, a conversion fee....

This was the problem -- the conversion was basically making the acquisition of "clean" money something like a poll tax. Jesus drove the money changers out as a statement that he wanted the temple open to both the rich, and the poor.

So, was that off-topic enough? *har*
posted by dwivian at 10:40 AM on July 1, 2002


I almost made a reference to abortion, as in, I'm noticing as the new word of the era, "unconstitutional" is replacing the old word, "abortion" from the past, like the 80's. But I didn't.
Thanks Ty.
And in Deuteronomy there is a story, about a pregnant woman accidentally being hit by another man who is fighting with her husband. The womb was lost and the woman lived. It was not treated as a death, and restitution was ordered for the loss and time of her pregnancy.
Now in this same chapter it goes on to says, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

But is this is off topic, or is it apples and oranges as they are a fruit.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:43 AM on July 1, 2002


I find myself accused of atheism up there and direct you back to my post. At worst you can conclude I'm on the religious left, which would be correct.

"Under God" is a sentiment expressed (for political reasons, mostly) by right, left and center alike, but certainly is espoused most strongly by the political and religious right, who are also, as it happens, most strongly in favor of capital punishment, and against abortion rights.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures (aka "Old Testament") and the New Testament support the idea that the state can legitimately punish evildoers with "the sword."

Well, sure, the scriptures "support" the idea of stoning, as well, and the idea that wives should be subordinate to their husbands.

Show me where it is written that given appropriate circumstances, hanging a man is the Christian thing to do.
posted by beagle at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2002


I love it when athiests lump Christians (fundamentalist or not) in the same boat with Islamic fundamentalists. Its a dirty trick. How about I make subtle accusations comparing your average modern athiest/agnostic to say, Josef Stalin?

Perhaps because western atheists and agnostics don't go on killing sprees. While Fundies of any color put 'god' above human decency every chance they get when it serves their needs and call upon 'god's word' as proof of the morality of their actions. Sorry, Hitler was a Christian too, but you don't see too many comparisions with him. Its one's actions that define what group one belongs to.

Regardless, it was uncalled for and only distracts from this thread. The DP arguments have been around for a long time and are quite valid in my opinion. Its expensive, fails as a deterrent, arguably kills innocent people, and is arguably both cruel and unsual in today's world.
posted by skallas at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2002


the New Testament support[s] the idea that the state can legitimately punish evildoers with "the sword."

I'm very interested in this. Though I don't claim to be a bible scholar, I feel I am at least vaguely familiar with the New Testament. And yet, I can't recall any portion that would indicate this. I am not denying it, though.

I guess I hoped that such an unequivocal statement would come with supporting documentation. FWIW, the Bible Gateway is a great tool for searching and citing scripture online, if that will help you find the passages. What topical searching I did online came up with only very vague quotations and certainly no mandate strong enough to clear up the inconsistency with other New Testament teaching.
posted by daveadams at 11:16 AM on July 1, 2002


Straight: Jesus never advocated capital punishment. He advocated forgiveness. However he did have this to say on the subject of stoning, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (or some such... it's been ages)
posted by timyang at 11:18 AM on July 1, 2002


While Fundies of any color put 'god' above human decency

As a Christian I would have to say that human decency is derived from God, not opposed to God. Of course, different folks have different standards.

Sorry, Hitler was a Christian too, but you don't see too many comparisions with him. Its one's actions that define what group one belongs to.

Hitler was really not a Christian, or an athiest.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2002


Basically it comes down to this. Jesus faced the issue rather 'up close' and never questioned the right of the state to execute him. I mean, it was an ideal time to bring it up, don't ya think?

I'm thinking that knowing you're not going to die and will ascend to the right hand of the throne of god somewhat mitigates any ill feelings you might be having.

Put another way: We're going to fire you, but you're going to receive a $75 million cashout as a result, tax-free.
posted by warhol at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2002


Sorry, Hitler was a Christian too
hhhmmmm... not so fast. The pagan nature of Nazi philosophy (Norse mythology etc) has been widely debated. So, Hitler's "christianity" is really open to question
posted by matteo at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2002


while the religious middle and left tends to stay in the background.

There's a significant Christian left??
posted by rushmc at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2002


beagle, hanging a man is the Christian thing to do.
non-cruel or tormented punishment of the time for Christians

Basically the Romans used the crucifix as capitol punishment, do you understand how it works. You are not normally nailed just tied. Your weight from you hanging there slowly crushes your lungs, great. It is a slow death, many days. Not for Christ yet that is a different story. They use to skin a man alive, and if the executioner did not fully skin you before you died, he too was executed for not performing his duty. So lets compare apples and oranges. Back on topic, yes stoning is cruel by today's standards, yet a hole and a rock was a quicker death.
And there is a science to hanging a man w/o cruelty other than death.
And yes innocent people are dying, an unfortunate fact.
That is why we are discussing it, aye.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:33 AM on July 1, 2002


re Nazi Paganism: I don't have web resources for that, but there's plenty of books. Off the top of my head, check out Burleigh's excellent work

There's a significant Christian left??
I don't know about the US, but in Europe there certainly is a strong Catholic left, man.
posted by matteo at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2002


"Surely it'll be cited as a precedent in state capital cases?"

Not technically precedent. It might be used as some sort of logical analogy, but the decision of a federal district court judge on an issue of a purely federal law has no precedential value over state criminal law.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:40 AM on July 1, 2002


DaveAdams, still waiting along with you for a succinct New Testament citations, but here's one of those Old Testament (whoops, Hebrew Scriptures) pronouncements:
Deuteronomy 21
18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
posted by beagle at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2002


Jesus never advocated capital punishment. He advocated forgiveness. However he did have this to say on the subject of stoning, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (or some such... it's been ages)

The actual quote is "Let you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone. Mom, put down the rock."
posted by dwivian at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2002


[There's a significant Christian left??]

There sure is. Mostly non-church-goers. I am anti-abortion (but pro choice), anti-death penalty, pro gay-rights, etc. Still Christian though and you would be surprised how many fellow Christians agree with these stances.
posted by revbrian at 11:45 AM on July 1, 2002


"There's a significant Christian left??"

While I'm sure that doesn't fit your weltanschauung, rushmc, there does seem to be a Christian left. In fact, if you look at most inner-city churches, you will find very progressive politics. I noticed you placed the "significant" qualifier on your question. I'm not sure if it would meet your definition of significant, but there you go.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2002


Back on my last post, I think the Romans went too far, in the use of the death penalty, yet that does not matter with Jesus's case as he never sinned, so what crime did he commit. But, that is of no consequences if you know the full story. Plus the Romans were not under biblical law like the Jews.
And his death is of no issue here. Unless you are one to maybe be executed...................
posted by thomcatspike at 11:50 AM on July 1, 2002


Those who support the use of the death penalty often do so on the basis of Scripture, especially "you shall give life for life" (Exod 21:23b) and "let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . for the authority does not bear the sword in vain" (Rom 13:1-7; cf., 1Pet 2:13-14).
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2002


There is a fine line to it, when you bring up the BiBle as no one goes w/o punishment. Regardless if your King David. He used his authority to send a warrior, a faithful one of his into battle, to die. It was his wife, Batsheba's first husband Uriah so he(David) could have her. And God punished him in a way, that may be considered a worse penalty than death.
Bathsheba gave birth to David's son, but the baby died in spite of David's pleading with God. .
This is also one of the great love stories in the bible, from Bathsheba's side.
The BiBle is not our constitution. Like an earlier reference here.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2002


There's a significant Christian left??

There is, but it doesn't appear to be as outspoken or grandstanding as the Christian right. In addition, it is probably a mistake to characterize opposition to the death penality as a left/right issue because one of the more active groups opposed to the death penalty are Catholics who oppose the death penalty for the same reasons as opposing contraceptive technologies and abortion. The National Collation to Abolish the Death Penalty has a nice listing of churches that oppose the death penalty including the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church. (The Society of Friends is a bit too obvious a citation.) Speaking of the Society of Friends they have their own Coalition Site.

If anything qualifies as the major work around which opponents of the death penalty rally it is probably Dead Man Walking by Sister Prejean which I've just found was made an opera

As for the lack of visability of the Christian left. It is probably due to a number of factors, part of which is promoted by the religious right. The religious right tends to scapegoat "secular humanism" in its battles in spite of the fact that many of its opponents are fellow Christians. Apparently, while boldly stating that your neighbor is damned to hell for going to the wrong church was kosher in my grandparent's time, it doesn't make for good press today. The Christian left doesn't currently have televangilists who pack stadiums or run their own network. They are considerably less likely to propose that disasters are the consequence of not creating the U.S. as a religious theocracy. In addition there doesn't seem to be a major interest in setting up a national unified front in the same way that the Christian Coalition or Focus on the Family has managed to set forward in national politics.

I also think that pardonyou has an interesting comment in that a lot of Christian liberalism seems to occur on the local scale and in fact, the tendency for grass-roots activism and gentle persuation, rather than high-power lobbying and electoral campaigning tends to make the national visability issue a problem. (Along with the supposed "left-wing" media which tends to be rather silent when it comes to reporting on anti-war, or anti-death penalty protests.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2002


I'm usually told my views are right, as in right wing, yet I see the end to left or right,
As which wing of the Bald Eagle are you? ( I know it has nothing to do with the bird) yet........? With out wings it no longer flies.
Honestly why do we have to be PC labeled about a view of life. You live here too.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2002


I noticed you placed the "significant" qualifier on your question.

Indeed. I might have also said "organized" or "politically involved." While it does not surprise me that there are some people who would self-identify as "religious left," what I was actually asking was whether they had any noticeable impact on American society. For example, if such a group exists, it seems strangely quiet when it comes to condemning the excesses of the religious right in the media and the political sphere.

(And my weltanshauung, pardonyou?, is based upon ascertaining how the world actually is, not embracing some preconceived set of notions, so I call that remark an unnecessary cheap shot irrelevant to--and detracting from--the point you were making.)
posted by rushmc at 1:11 PM on July 1, 2002


(And my weltanshauung, pardonyou?, is based upon ascertaining how the world actually is, not embracing some preconceived set of notions, so I call that remark an unnecessary cheap shot irrelevant to--and detracting from--the point you were making.)

Well, everyone thinks their own worldview is based on ascertaining how the world actually is. But, you're right that my remark was unnecessary and irrelevant. I'm not sure why I put that in there. Truly sorry.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2002


(And my weltanshauung, pardonyou?, is based upon ascertaining how the world actually is, not embracing some preconceived set of notions, so I call that remark an unnecessary cheap shot irrelevant to--and detracting from--the point you were making.)

Well, everyone thinks their own worldview is based on ascertaining how the world actually is. But, you're right that my remark was unnecessary and irrelevant. I'm not sure why I put that in there. Truly sorry.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2002


Honestly, I find myself voting for Democrats, as a registered republican. Especially in my new community. So next time I vote, I will have no "party".
At my work people make it a point to say Spike is a right-winger. Yet then I'm asked what gives latter down the road, that I don't really seem that way and also seem left with them. I then start to wonder. Case in point, I don't preach politics at work. This one co-worker(actually a friend) loves to tease me about issues. Especially anything with Bush, and it's not even my conversation or circle. I guess he thinks it is funny I can find fault in him. No one asked me if that was my personal choice. Also since I won't call him out, not the place he lets everyone know this. Well, seems when the next political issue arises and my beliefs are with his, other people ask me why I now seem left. Well, I tell them I can see two sides and at that time try to make a correct decision, hopefully educated.
Also seems some say left while others say right for the same belief so what gives there. I almost wonder it's more of "who" is saying it that get's the label, wrong or right.
Note:if the bold offends please tell, I'm not sure if I'm yelling like caps.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:38 PM on July 1, 2002


Well, everyone thinks their own worldview is based on ascertaining how the world actually is.

Do you really find this to be so? Most people seem to me to have their minds already solidly made up about most things, with only incidental correlation to actuality. To me, the emphasis should always be on the "ascertaining," as an ongoing process. Anyway, thanks for the acknowledgement.
posted by rushmc at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2002


Basically it comes down to this. Jesus faced the issue rather 'up close' and never questioned the right of the state to execute him. I mean, it was an ideal time to bring it up, don't ya think?

I'm thinking that knowing you're not going to die and will ascend to the right hand of the throne of god somewhat mitigates any ill feelings you might be having.

Put another way: We're going to fire you, but you're going to receive a $75 million cashout as a result, tax-free.
posted by warhol at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2002


Do the feds know something the various state courts don't?

State courts are notoriously incompetent so that could account for part of the difference in statistics. But who knows? Federal courts are also notoriously unwilling to reverse death sentences imposed by state courts on habeas appeals.

As far as organized Christian left groups, most of the mainline Protestant denomonations (Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Methodists, Episcopalians, certain sects of the Baptist church etc) are pretty far to the left on economic issues and center/left on most social issues as well. Certainly, they are pretty much united in opposition to the death penalty.

I for one, as a pretty serious Christian, believe that the death penalty is fundamentally inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. I would venture a guess that most non-evangelical Christians share this view.
posted by boltman at 3:25 PM on July 1, 2002


I would venture a guess that most non-evangelical Christians share this view.

Actually, I know quite a few evangelical christians (myself included) who are opposed to the death penalty. Mind you, Australian evangelicals don't seem to be quite in the same league as their American counterparts. (Or rather, the vocal American evangelicals. I'm sure there are also plenty of American evangelicals who feel the Religious Right doesn't represent them.)
posted by eoz at 6:00 PM on July 1, 2002


As a Christian I would have to say that human decency is derived from God, not opposed to God. Of course, different folks have different standards.

That to me is crazy. Literally, functional insanity. Many have had visions of god(s) telling them what to do and because of the concept of faith it is literally impossible to tell the difference between hallucination and divine vision/intervention. Even morally you wouldn't know. The book of Job and Abraham's potential sacrifice makes Yaweh unpredictable and somewhat evil. Of course those are parables, wive's tales, occult philosophy, blah blah. Yet many Xtians take these stories as real as dirt.

The word of god(s) is not falsifiable and as such it is technically meaningless. Sorry, but the next time some nut kills or hurts someone because 'god told him so' part of the blame goes to you, the religious, for helping create an atmosphere of myth, faith, and divine infallibility.
posted by skallas at 6:34 PM on July 1, 2002


Kill 'em all. Let God sort 'em out.

Seriously, are there are no stadium-filling left-wing Christian evangelists?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:50 PM on July 1, 2002


Actually, I know quite a few evangelical christians (myself included) who are opposed to the death penalty. Mind you, Australian evangelicals don't seem to be quite in the same league as their American counterparts

yeah, the terminology is tricky. i used "non-evangelical" simply for lack of a better word. i guess "non-right wing fundamentalist" is maybe a bit closer to what i meant but that has a kind of contemptuous ring which i generally try to avoid when talking about my brothers and sisters (however misguided they may be). i belong to the "Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" which is pretty far to the left as far as major deminations go but still has a doctrinal commitment to evangelism. also, i suppose i personally am an "evangelical" in the sense that i try to share my faith with others when the opportunity arises. but i don't usually self-identify as an evangelical simply because of all the ugly politcal connotations that go along with that word in this country. i happen to like the term "orthodox," but that can create its own confusions, obviously.
posted by boltman at 10:10 PM on July 1, 2002


re: terminology.

Actually, I tend not to self-identify as 'evangelical' when outside of xian circles, or when I don't have time to explain myself, because most non-christians I know get their views on religion from observing America, and I'm not a right-wing fundamentalist (never mind the fact that 'fundamental' really ought to refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus, not side issues like evolution...).

I was about to suggest someone invent a new terminolgy that is an accurate, non-emotional description of different positions, but then realised that within a year, the names would probably just become yet more unclear, vaguely ugly political labels.
posted by eoz at 2:19 AM on July 2, 2002


That to me is crazy. Literally, functional insanity.

So where do you derive human decency? How is your source any less 'insane'? Your paranoid worldview dictates that anyone who believes in in something invisible is insane. I would argue (as Chesterton did) that the man who has only his reason alone is the madman.

it is literally impossible to tell the difference between hallucination and divine vision/intervention.

This is why apart from Scripture, Christians have traditionally considered people who claim to have a special word from the Holy Spirit to be heretics. The role of the priesthood is to teach the people the key doctrines provided in the Bible, God's revelation to mankind. No serious theologian or educated layperson (rare today, I admit) would trust the claims made by one person to be the word of God. The Bible clearly says that anyone who adds to the Scriptures is a heretic, so your allegation is easily met by this tradition. A better claim would be to say the Bible itself is mostly hallucination, but you didn't claim that.

The word of god(s) is not falsifiable and as such it is technically meaningless.

Maybe in a scientific, materialistic way it is meaningless. How do I know if anything you say is a myth, meaningless, or otherwise? You're so busy attacking a Christian boogeyman which is really the exception to the rule, and it demonstrates that you do not understand even the basic tenets of the faith.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:29 AM on July 2, 2002


I love it when athiests lump Christians (fundamentalist or not) in the same boat with Islamic fundamentalists. Its a dirty trick.

Sometimes, yes; sometimes, it's totally valid. There are plenty of horrible things done by Christians in the name of god, just as there are plenty of horrible things done by Islamic folk in the name of god. Where horrible things are done in the name of god, the same brush is more than adequate, it's requisite.
posted by holycola at 8:24 AM on July 2, 2002


Your paranoid worldview dictates that anyone who believes in in something invisible is insane.

LOL That is (unintentionally) hilarious. "Anyone who believes in something invisible is insane." Well, yeah. Although I would amend it to read "anyone who believes in something invisible, intangible, with no objective or logical evidence whatsoever supporting its existence is insane."
posted by rushmc at 9:04 AM on July 2, 2002


quarks are invisible.
posted by boltman at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2002


I for one, as a pretty serious Christian, believe that the death penalty is fundamentally inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. I would venture a guess that most non-evangelical Christians share this view.

I'm sympathetic to this view, and agree with your statement as far as "non-evangelical" Christians of this generation. But historically, most Christians have taught that the teachings of Jesus are directed much more at how individuals and the church should live than how the state should be run. Most have taught that the role of the state in punishing wrongdoers is fundamentally different from an individual striking back and taking revenge.

Here is an extremely even-handed review of the Catholic church's historical qualified support for and current qualified opposition to capital punishment. And here is a link to the relevant section of the current Roman Catholic catechism (scroll down a couple paragraphs).

Here is a list of links to the policy positions of various Christian denominations regarding the death penalty.
posted by straight at 11:26 AM on July 2, 2002


There's a significant Christian left??

Absolutely. Most, if not all, of the Catholics I know vote Democrat and abhor the views of the "religious right." This includes my uncle who is a Roman Catholic priest.

Shame on you for stereotyping

P.S. I'm not sure why this has become a religious debate. While some people use religious rhetoric to bolster support for the death penalty, that's all just hype and trying to sell the death penalty to an uneducated segment of the American public. The legal under support for the death penalty comes from the notion that death penalty serves many of the “purposes of punishment.” The death penalty serves the purposes of just retribution, community condemnation, restraint of the convicted criminal and specific deterrence (deters the convicted from committing the crime again). Also, the death penalty has survived a number of "curl and unusual punishment" challenges.

[This decision] would have no effect on cases in state courts in the 38 states that have capital punishment.

Surely it'll be cited as a precedent in state capital cases?


Federal law can't act, as a matter of law, as authority for state courts. It can, however, be persuasive authority for state courts (i.e. state judge can choose to follow this ruling, but state judges are not forced to follow this ruling).
posted by Bag Man at 11:50 AM on July 2, 2002


the teachings of Jesus are directed much more at how individuals and the church should live than how the state should be run

very true, although to the extent that we live in a democracy (unlike Jesus and his followers) and have a civic obligation to be involved in the process of goverance, rather than merely subject to it, I think it is perfectly appropriate for Christians to advocate for a government that its both humane and just.

plus, even if you don't buy the whole compassion and mercy thing, the 68 percent error rate, blatant racism, and arbitrariness of the death penalty ought to make anyone, Christian or not, pause.
posted by boltman at 1:30 PM on July 2, 2002


Ashcroft's church, the Assemblies of God, has an interesting position paper on the issue of capital punishment. As far the religious argument on the matter goes, this particular article sums it up nicely:

"There is room in the church for honest differences of opinion concerning the use of capital punishment. However, all believers should seek to apply biblical principles in reaching their conclusions: the sacredness of human life (of the criminal as well as of the victim), the need of all mankind to repent, and the power of God to transform even the most violent sinners. These truths must be balanced with the obligation of government to protect its citizens, helping them to live quiet and peaceful lives."
posted by Dreama at 1:31 PM on July 2, 2002


plus, even if you don't buy the whole compassion and mercy thing, the 68 percent error rate, blatant racism, and arbitrariness of the death penalty ought to make anyone...pause

This is a problem with the criminal justice system and our society as a whole, not the penalty itself. Perhaps we need to solve racism in society and the "arbitrariness" of application, however, this issue does not contradict any the legal ground on which the death penalty resides.

I really like Judge Rakoff’s argument about violations of substantive 14th Amendment “due process” rights. Although it’s a novel argument, unlike boltman’s argument, it’s an argument that is build on at least some legal ground. A am looking forward to the Circuit Court's (and presumably the Supreme Court's) discussion of the matter.
posted by Bag Man at 2:04 PM on July 2, 2002


Ashcroft's church, the Assemblies of God

Oh come now. Every programmer knows that even with the fastest assembler, you could never do a full assembly of God, since His source code is infinite in size. Let alone more than one as Ashcroft's sect claims.
posted by kindall at 2:09 PM on July 2, 2002


this issue does not contradict any the legal ground on which the death penalty resides.


bag man, if by this you mean that there is no constitutional prohibitions against punishments that are arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory, i beg to differ. the error rate, racism, and arbitrariness of the death penality were pretty much the exact reasons that it was found to violate the 8th and 14th amendments back in the 70s in Furhman v. Georgia. Of course, Furhman was overruled several years later, but only because the court believed it had found a way to "fix" these problems by requiring "guided discretion" in the sentencing phase of a capital trial. Thus, to the extent that a plaintiff could show that guided discretion hasn't solved the problems identified in Furhman, they could, at least theoretically, win a new mortorium on the death penalty. Yes, we all know that will never ever happen with the current ideological balance of power in the court, but all of legal principles (due process, equal protection, cruel and unusual punishment) that the court used in Furhman are still more or less valid. So there most certainly is a "legal ground" on which I could base my argument. The problem would be getting the justices to believe the evidence.

p.s. yes, Rakoff's arguments are slightly different then those put forth in Furhman, but not terribly so. It will be interesting to see what the 2nd circuit does, although i don't hold out much hope that scotus will have much sympathy for Rakoff's argument.
posted by boltman at 12:12 AM on July 3, 2002


Furhman was overruled several years later, but only because the court believed it had found a way to "fix" these problems by requiring "guided discretion" in the sentencing phase of a capital trial.

Well boltman, as you have pointed out, it looks like the issue of the arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory nature of the death penalty has already been settle by Supreme Court. Again, the societal forces that impose the punishment are different from the punishment itself. So, I guess that argument is legally moot and, as I asserted, is not on sound legal ground.

And boltman, how do respond to the argument of the death penalty properly fulfills many of the purposes of punishment? Looks like your legal analysis falls wells short of valid.

cruel and unusual punishment

This argument has been dismissed by the current, and other, Supreme Court(s). In other words, it is bad law no matter what the make up of the court happens to be. Boltman your own dogma has blinded you to all of the arguments.

I also want to add a rant…

People who support the death penalty don’t want to see blood. I am, like many supports of the death penalty, a Democrat and a “liberal,” but I tend to differ with my lefiest colleagues on this issue. Why? Because I believe that there are some crimes so horrid and violate the rights of the victims so much that the convicted deserves the ultimate punishment. Of course, such a punishment must be used with sparingly and with the utmost restraint. I would reserve the death penalty for harshest crimes (multiple murder, murder + rape, to name a few). Further I believe the penalty is good law (see my purposes of punishment argument in my first post of this thread). For a moment just distinguish the penalty from its application. Do too may people got the death penalty? ABSOLUTELY. Does this mean that it’s a bed punishment? No. It just means that its application needs to be reformed.
posted by Bag Man at 7:21 AM on July 3, 2002


boltman, how do respond to the argument of the death penalty properly fulfills many of the purposes of punishment? Looks like your legal analysis falls wells short of valid.

I respond to it by making the obvious point that it doesn't matter whether the penalty fulfills the "purposes of punishment" if it is not, indeed cannot, be administered without all of the problems i discuss above.

I actually agree with you that the punishment itself is probably not "cruel and unusual" in the abstract (i.e. divorced from the problems of administration). I just think that the problems in administration are insurmountable.

also, your assertation that the death penalty would be found constiutional regardless of the makeup of the court is patently absurd. Nearly all of the legal principles used to decide Furman are still around today. A more liberal court would have no trouble using Furman's reasoning to impose a new moratorium. All they'd have to find is that guided discretion hasn't worked in fixing the problems identified in Furman. Easy as pie.
posted by boltman at 9:13 AM on July 3, 2002


I respond to it by making the obvious point that it doesn't matter whether the penalty fulfills the "purposes of punishment" if it is not, indeed cannot, be administered without all of the problems i discuss above.

It is a fundamental tenant of Anglo-American criminal law that the validity of any punishment be judged by the how the punishment effectuates the purposes of punishment. While I respect your arguments (and they are good), I don't think that it’s your place to debunk hundreds of years of jurisprudence. You seem to arbitrarily brushing aside these ideas simply because you think the system of application of the death penalty is too bias.

Why I think the purposes of punishment are fulfilled

Just retribution (The most contentious) - It seems only fair to deprive a person of their right to life, if one has committed horrific acts that severely violate that completely deprive another of their rights. I want to make clear that I think the taking of the convicted life is only justified in rare occasions and should be reserved for only the horrific crimes. (Please do not confuse with an "eye for an "eye" argument because I don’t believe that B.S.)

Restraint - Death seems to the ultimate restraint.

Community condemnation – There is no better way to say "we disapprove of your conduct*" than to take the life of the convicted.

Specific deterrence - If one is dead one cannot commit the crime.

Further…

All U.S. murder statutes have clauses that allow for the taking of a life when the taking if the like is justified under the circumstances or it commanded by the law. This tells me that the legislature intended the state to have the power to take a person's live given the appropriate circumstances. And, the lack of any successful constitutional challenge to any part of these statutes tells me that it my be constitutional for the state to take a life.

Your typical homoide statute goes a little like:

Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being, or fetus (at least in California), with malice aforethought, express or implied, with justification…

Blotman, response?


*I want to make clear that I think the taking of the convicted’s life is only justified in rare occasions and should be reserved for only the horrific crimes.
posted by Bag Man at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2002


bag man, i confess i am baffled by your post. as i said above, i agree that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual in the abstract. Yes, you are absolutely correct that it furthers retribution, specific deterrence, etc. etc. Despite this, I do oppose the death penalty on substantive grounds, but I have no illusions that it is unconstitutional on that basis. The battle over the desireability of the penalty, divorced from procedural issues, must be fought in state legislatures, not the courts.

(BTW - It still could be ruled unconstitutional for substantively violating the 8th amendment if society attitudes toward it change. The test for cruel and unusual is whether the punishment violates society's "evolving standards of decency." But obviously we haven't come that far yet.)

What I don't understand is how you can say that I'm "arbitrarily brushing aside" hundreds of years of jurisprudence." If the murderers that got the death penalty were chosen in this country by flipping a coin, would you still think that to be constitutional? Trial by combat? What about if jurors were required to consider the race of the defendent or victim in choosing the punishment? The process is important, especially when the sentence is irrevocable. The fact that 68 percent of sentences are reversed on appeal because of serious prejudicial error in the trial court, or that a person that murders a white victim is four times more likely to get sentenced to death than a person that murders a black victim, should give one pause about the reliability of the death sentencing process as a whole.

If you're really interested in this topic, I advise you to read some of the Furman opinions (there was no majority opinion in the case). It provides a good overview of a lot of procedural arguments that can be made against the administration of the death penalty. You'll find that all of them are still applicable to our current system.
posted by boltman at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2002


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