Friday, May 2, 2008

Anglican Bishop on the Death Penalty

Bishop Richard Harries, writing for the BBC's Thought for the Day, has said:

For me by far the most encouraging story of the week concerned Billy Moore, who spent nearly 17 years on Death Row, and who has been over here this week speaking against the death penalty. During those years 14 of his fellow prisoners were executed, and he himself had 15 stays of execution. One time he came to within 7 hours of being electrocuted.

Billy Moore was guilty- he confessed that he had indeed shot a man dead in the course of a robbery. So, in one sense he deserved to die. But what has effected me on this issue more than any of the many arguments has been a black and white film by the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, The Decalogue, about the ten commandments. The film on the commandment forbidding murder showed a Polish youth brutally killing a taxi driver. He was duly caught and you saw him being hung. There was absolutely no excuse for the senseless murder, yet hanging the young man just seemed demeaning to the society that carried it out. Today there are still 68 countries in the world that retain the death penalty. For example, according to Amnesty International China executes around 1000 people a year and Iran 200. The idea of someone forfeiting their life for the life they have taken may satisfy abstract notions of justice, but it is still, I believe, demeaning to the human society that carries out this punishment.

But there is another even stronger reason to abolish the death penalty, wonderfully exemplified in the case of Billy Moore. On Death Row he discovered the names and addresses of the family of the man he killed and wrote to them to say sorry. Not only did they write back to say they forgave him but they continued to write to him encouraging him to turn his life round and use his experience as an incentive to help other people: and that's what he did, starting a Bible Study Group in prison, and saying to his fellow inmates "Its bad enough us being in here with the state trying to kill us, but while we are waiting to die, we can treat each other right".

Read it here.

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