Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Decision

It's the end of session for the Supreme Court and they're cranking out some big ones as per usual.

One from a day or so ago has been sitting with me. It was the ruling that said that
"the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child."

Man, I had a split reaction to that. I do support a carefully applied use of the death penalty. It is not a position arrived at lightly and it is one that I hold with a certain ambivalence. The concept of state sponsored murder doesn't sit well with me. On the other hand society needs to hold that ultimate punishment as a possibility for the worst crimes. That is my belief. As I said it comes with a certain burden of ambivalence.

So surely the rape of a child MUST qualify as among the worst crimes that it possible to commit. The court's logic that only death of the victim raises the crime to the level of capital punishment falls short for me. My heart cries out and my mind echoes the cry. While the murder is a terrible thing it is one with an end. It is a finite event. The results of rape go on long after the criminal "act" has been completed.

There are two other arguments that I find somewhat more comfortable. First that there is no overwhelming societal consensus on the issue. In fact quite the opposite. There is only a handful of states that have such a law and virtually no one other than the plaintiff in this case who has been sentenced for the crime. In fact no one has been executed for the crime of rape of a victim of any age since 1964. Capital punishment for the rape of an adult victim was ruled out by the Court in 1977.

The most compelling argument came from a surprising corner to me, advocates for children. They did not even the possibility of the death penalty because it would diminish the already minimal reporting of the crime. Sadly the most common perpetrator is a family member or close friend. People are more likely to turn in such a person even if they faced life in prison but are less likely if the death penalty is involved.

In the end I find myself resting uncomfortably with a decision on the death penalty. As a minister to young people my first impulse to protect those kids and yes sometimes at any cost. As a person of faith I am called to a path of redemption which can not be followed if the person needing it is dead. Politically I am concerned when the state has the authority to take the life of a citizen.

In the end we live in a broken world. I can only do what I can to make it work as best as it can.

Prayers for our Justices, for our children and for those whose lives have been so broken that they prey on children.


1 comment:

StLouisJohn said...

Ambivalent indeed.

I would like to be able to state to you that we are in opposition and that I do not support the death penalty for any ...reason. State-sanctioned murder, so on and so forth, I can go on...

...Until I hear of some horrific crime. Especially against children. Then my foundation begins to crack. And your post brings up yet another point, regarding the advocates for children affected. That the penalty being death could cause some to not be reported.

I can hedge my position, and say..."well, in certain circumstances..." BUt what, and who, and how do be specifically define those circumstances? Codified law needs to be precise...yet those circumstances are not. People of logic, justice, and reason, such as yourself (and I hope myself) are torn on this. Because our emotion nudges our logic and says "think about this."

It is indeed hard, and indeed a broken world. My prayer echoes yours, for all involved.