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Bishop : Bishop's Message Archives Last Updated: Nov 13th, 2006 - 13:30:33

Death penalty would do no honor to Briggs
By V. Gene Robinson
Oct 30, 2006, 11:23

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The following article appeared in the Concord Monitor on Saturday, October 28 and in the New Hampshire Sunday News on Sunday, October 29, 2006.

            The killing of police officer Michael Briggs is a horrible crime, not only against this fine public servant and his family, but against all of us.  There is no finer example for us of someone who daily puts himself at personal risk for the sake of us all.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for another.” 

            However, the responses to this heinous crime from politicians and citizens of this State cause me to wonder about our buying into the very uncivilized and dehumanizing behavior exhibited by the murderer himself.  In recent letters to the editor, we hear calls not only for the speedy workings of justice, but, in one case, for the dispensing of a trial altogether, forgoing the “waste” of the cost of such a trial and proceeding with the execution.  And in a letter to the editor that simply took my breath away, one of our state senators requested that he be given the honor (or is it the revengeful pleasure) of administering the lethal injection himself!

            This is a difficult and moral dilemma with which we are presented.  We are horrified at what has happened to a fine and worthy public servant.  Although the perpetrator must be held accountable, what is to be gained from such calls for public execution and a suspension of the rules of justice – except a diminishment of our commitment to due process for ALL.  When our search for justice becomes a desire for blind revenge, is not the memory of this fallen officer and hero demeaned?  He gave his life for the administration of law and order, and justice.  What a cruel legacy it would be to shortcircuit that process as a way of honoring him.

            Some will argue that if the death penalty is ever justified, it is in this case.  The key word in that question is “if.”  In my understanding of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, all of life is to be hallowed and honored.  Just because someone has killed someone else, are we to join the murderer in abandoning that moral principle, in order to exact revenge?  In doing so, we are in danger of BECOMING that which we decry.  By my reading of scripture, we are NEVER justified in the taking of another life.  Period.  Full stop.

            What then to do?  Why is a life sentence without possibility of parole not a justifiable and honorable punishment for such a crime against us all?  It removes the dangerous person from society, while preserving our own commitment to the sanctity of life.  Some will argue that the costs of lifelong incarceration are exhorbitant – but every study I’ve read shows that the costs associated with execution (with its mandatory appeals to higher courts) far exceed the costs of lifelong incarceration.  Some will argue that such a life lived in prison is “too good” for such a murderer – but how good can it be to live every day of your life behind bars, with 24 hours of every day of your natural life to contemplate the unspeakable act you have committed?  A speedy death might be the “easy way out.”

            Whether in war or in conflicts in our public life, we always run the risk of adopting the very tactics of our enemies.  How does the killing of another human being EVER bring us closer to a world where NO human being is killed?  At a time when the City of Manchester is considering a $400,000 cut in community improvements to balance its budget, how can we so easily find $400,000 to prosecute this capital murder case?  Would Officer Briggs not be MORE honored by a contribution of $400,000 to the people he served, than the use of that money to kill another?  In doing so, we might just save our OWN souls.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

© Copyright 2004-2006 by The Diocese of New Hampshire, The Episcopal Church

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