Free Essay On The Moral Implications Of The Death Penalty
In her essay “Executions Are Too Costly-Morally”, Sister Helen Prejean argues that the death penalty is un-American. Most of the rest of world has abolished capital punishment because it is cruel and unusual punishment (Baumgartner and De Boef 14). European pharmaceutical manufacturers are refusing to ship lethal injection drugs to the U.S. on moral grounds. As a result, American prisons have been forced to improvise, and in the summer of 2014 an Arizona death row prisoner took over two hours to die by lethal injection in the grotesque botched execution (“Europe’s Moral Stand”). There are many other arguments against the archaic practice. It is expensive and it targets the poor, the mentally disabled and minorities. It accidently kills the innocent and allows the guilty to roam free. On the other hand, capital punishment has its supporters. Some believe some criminals are just so evil, they need to die for some sort of biblical retribution. Death penalty advocates use religion, histrionics and tradition to justify capital punishment. It may be an American tradition, but like other antiquated and violent practices, like slavery or the lynching of blacks in the old south, it is time for Americans to abolish it.
Prejean begins her argument by attacking many of the biblical justifications for the death penalty. She asserts that many religious death penalty advocates distort scripture and take moral rules from the Bible out of context to support their own agenda and beliefs (Prejean 623). She admits that the Bible does include passages that support the death penalty for murder. However, she explains that the death penalty was not endorsed, it was simply mentioned in a narrative. It is a part of history. She also points out that Jesus encouraged his disciples to be relatively non-judgmental, reminding them that “Let him without sin cast the first stone”(John 8:7).
She also dismisses the famous “Eye for the Eye” passage, because in context, the passage actually encourages restraint and advises people to control their emotions and to limit their desires for revenge (Prejean 624). Finally, she reminds readers that the Bibles an ancient text referring to a fragile and nomadic society, without modern legal infrastructure and a prison system to enforce laws and punish offenders. At the time, the death penalty was all they had to punish murders. Societies and governments should have become more civilized in the last 2,000 years. She also makes the common sense argument that the Bible prescribed the death penalty for a variety of offenses, such as adultery and homosexuality, that we would never consider a capital crime today (Prejean 625). Times have changed and so should societal norms in terms of capital punishment. As a Roman Catholic nun, she believes the Bible is a living document that should be read for intent and meaning, not strict interpretation. Jesus preached compassion for his fellow man.
However, Prejean does not frame her argument on semantics and trying to interpret an ancient text, which she calls “Biblical quarterbacking” (Prejean 625). Instead, she goes to the core of why she believes the death penalty is immoral. According to Prejean, Jesus preached ethical compassion, non-violence and “a solidarity with the poor” (Prejean 625). There are a myriad of other arguments that can be made against the death penalty. It is expensive, it overwhelmingly is applied to the poor and minorities, and it is increasingly being shown through DNA evidence that innocent people are sitting on death row (Baumgartner and De Boef 18).
Moreover, our greatest thinkers and activists have been closely aligned with the philosophy of Jesus. The twentieth century featured two “flares of hope” against vengeful prosecution of criminals. Mahatma Gandhi gave pacifists in general a powerful slogan against revenge: “If everyone took an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind.”
Likewise, Martin Luther King also preached the gospel of peaceful protest and non-violent relationships. To them, non-violence was a “tactical weapon as well as an expression of high moral principles” (Prejean 625). Love is a powerful force, much greater and constructive than violence and death. The death penalty puts America as a disadvantage. It “costs” us financially. More importantly, it is morally expensive. It compromises the democratic and religious ideals of the American people. Prejean predicts that America will follow the rest of the world and eventually abolish the death penalty (Prejean 626). If executions were made public, and Americans had the opportunity to analyze the reality of the death penalty, it would be abolished. Americans are civilized people, and can only accept the brutality of the practice because it is performed in secret, far away from the day to day affairs of the average American. The issue is being largely ignored, but recent incidents and the global trend towards abolishing capital punishment seem to be supporting Prejean’s argument and prediction.
Prejean focuses exclusively on the moral consequences of the death penalty on American society. There are many other factors that strengthen her position. She could mention the staggering economic cost to tax payers. It costs more than ten million dollars to execute a criminal in most states that still allow it (Baumgartner and De Boef 27). She could have mentioned the Innocence Project which has freed 321 innocent people from death row by reexamining cases and using DNA evidence (Baumgartner and De Boef 31). She also left out the overwhelming percentage of minorities, or the mentally challenged, and the mentally ill who are sentenced to death. However, she did not need to confuse the issue. Her argument is simple and appeals to people on a universal level. The death penalty is just plain wrong. America, the “flagship of democracy” should be embarrassed and humiliated in the eyes of the world for continuing to practice a barbaric ritual that goes against basic democratic and Christian principles. (Prejean 627). As a country, one of America’s strength is its moral capital, which is rapidly diminishing due to the cost of continuing to implement the death penalty. As a civilized country, a member of a global community, and most importantly a world leader, American cannot afford to continue killing in the name of justice.
Baumgartner, Frank R., Suzanna L. De Boef, and Amber E. Boydstun. The decline of the
death penalty and the discovery of innocence. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
"Europe’s Moral Stand Has U.S. States Running out of Execution Drugs, Complicating Capital Punishment." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
Prejean, Helen. “Executions Are Too Costly—Morally.” Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. 9th Edition. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 623-627. Print.
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