Largest Jewish Organization Calls on Okla. Governor to Grant Clemency for Crimes Prisoner Committed as a Boy
"The execution of a person who committed a crime as a minor ... is particularly abhorrent."
WASHINGTON, February 2, 1999-Leaders of the Reform Jewish movement, speaking on behalf of the largest branch within the American Jewish community, yesterday called upon Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating to stay the execution of Sean Sellers, who is sentenced to die this Thurday for a crime he committed as a minor.
In a letter to the governor, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote that Sellers' execution "would represent a breach of American moral sensibilities, Jewish values, and international human rights treaties."
The complete letter from Rabbis Yoffie and Saperstein follows:
Dear Governor Keating:
On behalf of the Reform Jewish movement, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,700 rabbis in North America, we urge you to stay the execution of Sean Sellers. His execution would represent a breach of American moral sensibilities, Jewish values, and international human rights treaties.
Jewish tradition, which in theory allows capital punishment, regulated its legal system so stringently in this area as to make it nonexistent. Many of the very concerns at stake in this case led the Rabbis to teach that a court that puts to death even one person in 70 years is considered to have blood on its hands. Our prophets teach that God does not seek vengeance but rather that the sinner should repent. Based on these values, we join with the myriad of American and international religious and political leaders in saying that, beyond our opposition to capital punishment generally, the execution of a person who committed a crime as a minor and/or who suffered from mental illness is particularly abhorrent.
Putting Sean Sellers to death would serve to isolate the United States among the community of nations. One hundred and ninety-one nations-all except the U.S. and Somalia-have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of its articles prohibits the use of the death penalty against those under 18 years of age at the time of their crime. This overwhelming international consensus confirms the existence of international support for this provision and against this execution.
We do not minimize the seriousness of the crimes for which Mr. Sellers was convicted. The taking of any human life cannot be justified. However, this includes the taking of human life by society. The death penalty debases our entire penal system and brutalizes our human spirit.
A life snuffed out by violence or by legalized lethal injection is still the destruction of a life. We urge you to grant clemency to Sean Sellers so that our society will not stain its own hands with blood.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Rabbi David Saperstein
Religious Action Centerof Reform Judaism
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.