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Prominent Religious Leaders Urge Bush to Enact a Moratorium on Federal Executions

Letter to Bush notes:
"As men and women of faith, many of whom work to bring comfort and support to those who have suffered unspeakable grief, we know that their pain, and the pain of a community, a state or even a nation, cannot be healed through the retribution of capital punishment or by vengeance."

Contact: Alexis Rice or Rachel Labush (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2001 -- Leaders from the Reform Jewish movement today joined a broad coalition of religious leaders urging President George W. Bush to enact a moratorium on federal executions and grant clemency to Timothy McVeigh and Juan Raul Garza. Mr. McVeigh's execution, set for May 16, will be the first federal execution in almost forty years. Mr. Garza is scheduled to be executed on June 19.

Since 1959, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) have formally opposed the death penalty. The Reform Jewish leaders who signed the letter include Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rabbi Charles Kroloff, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Paul J. Menitoff, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Ellen Y. Rosenberg, Executive Director, Women of Reform Judaism; and Judith Silverman, President of Women of Reform Judaism. Other Jewish leaders included Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, President of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Joel Meyers, Executive Vice President, The Rabbinical Assembly; Douglas Mirell, President, the Progressive Jewish Alliance; and Murray Polner, Chair, Jewish Peace Fellowship.

Voicing their strong moral and ethical support for a moratorium on executions, the religious leaders noted that "the purpose of a moratorium - a sustained opportunity for a conscientious and thorough examination of the administration of the federal death penalty - cannot be achieved while any executions take place."

Among the other prominent religious leaders who signed the letter are Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches; the Most Reverend Frank Tracy Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church USA; Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church U.S.A; Dr. Robert H. Roberts, Interim General Secretary, America Baptist Churches USA; Archbishop Nicholas Lambrou, Archbishop-Primate, Autocephalous Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Americas; Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, the Reformed Church in America; Joseph K. Grieboski, President, Institute on Religion and Public Policy; Dr. Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada; Rev. Judy Mills Reimer, Executive Director, Church of the Brethren General Board; Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, the first clergywoman to serve as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ; and Sister Helen Prejean, Author, Dead Man Walking.

In addition, numerous other clergy and leaders of religious social justice groups signed the letter. They represent a range of denominations and organizations such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), Catholics Against Capital Punishment, and the American Ethical Union.

The full text of the letter with signatories follows:

    Dear Mr. President:

    On December 4, 2000, many of us wrote to President Clinton to urge him to declare an executive moratorium on federal executions and to grant clemency to Juan Raul Garza. At that time, Mr. Garza was scheduled to be the first individual executed under the federal death penalty in nearly forty years. Pressing the need for a moratorium on federal executions, we called upon President Clinton to respond decisively to questions that were troubling all Americans who care about fundamental fairness, due process and equal protection of law. A copy of this letter of December 4 is provided under cover of this correspondence.

    As you know, on December 7, 2000, President Clinton granted a reprieve to Mr. Garza because he concluded that "the examination of possible racial and regional bias should be completed before the United States goes forward with an execution in a case that may implicate the very questions raised by the Justice Department's continuing study." Mr. Garza now faces an execution date of June 19, 2001. It is our understanding that the Department of Justice study, which now also includes participation by independent investigators, is many months from completion. Certainly, it will be many more months before we will know how racial and geographic disparities affect the administration of the federal death penalty, and whether such disparities can be eliminated.

    As we write to you, Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to be the first individual executed under the federal death penalty since 1963. We believe that even those who support capital punishment will agree that no federal execution should proceed until the questions raised by the initial DOJ survey are answered and the nation is assured that the federal death penalty is neither biased nor arbitrary in its application. These questions go to the very core of the American justice system. The purpose of a moratorium - a sustained opportunity for a conscientious and thorough examination of the administration of the federal death penalty - cannot be achieved while any executions take place.

    As Americans, we could not fail to ask President Clinton to respond to systemic problems concerning the death penalty that have been in the news and on the minds of so many of our fellow citizens, and have produced a growing national support for a moratorium on executions. However, our letter was also clear in stating that "[t]he overwhelming majority of communities of faith are united in their opposition to the death penalty." By urging President Clinton to grant clemency to Mr. Garza, we expressed our unequivocal support for rational and just alternatives to capital punishment such as life imprisonment. It is, above all, this message of faith that leaders of many different religious communities deliver to you today.

    Our December 4 letter to President Clinton explained our opposition to capital punishment, which derives from our shared and strongly held belief in the sanctity of life and our certainty that when the government responds to violence with violence -- even to an act as horrific as the one which took the lives of 168 people in Oklahoma City - its action breeds more violence. As men and women of faith, many of whom work to bring comfort and support to those who have suffered unspeakable grief, we know that their pain, and the pain of a community, a state or even a nation, cannot be healed through the retribution of capital punishment or by vengeance.

    May 16 and June 19 are fast approaching. We appeal to you in the strongest possible terms to grant clemency to Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Garza and to impose a moratorium on federal executions.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Russell B. Barber, Former Religion & Ethics Editor, NBC Television, New York
    Rev. Fred H. Beebe, Sr. Deacon, Holy Comforter Church, Welaka, FL
    Rabbi Leonard Beerman, Los Angeles, CA
    Kay Bengston, Assistant Director - Domestic Policy, Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Herbert Blinder, Director, Washington Ethical Action Office, American Ethical Union
    Rev. Monsignor Eugene J. Boyle, Chair Emeritus, Interfaith Council of Santa Clara County
    Rev. John Buehrens, President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
    J. Daryl Byler, Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
    Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell
    Janet Chisholm, Interim Co-Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
    Craig Corbett, Clergy Member, Florida Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church
    Carol Q. Cosby, Staff, Disciples Peace Fellowship
    Richard Deats, Interim Co-Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
    Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
    Rev. Michael Dodd, Director, Columban Fathers Justice and Peace Office
    Sister Audrey Doetzel, NDS, Director, Christian-Jewish Relation and Encounter, Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, Brooklyn, NY
    Fr. Chuck Durante, Co-Chair, Life, Peace & Justice Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno
    Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
    The Reverend Jess Gaither, Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church, Salem, New Jersey
    Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, The Reformed Church in America
    Joseph K. Grieboski, President, Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Inc.
    The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church U.S.A.
    Howard Hallman, Chair, Methodists United for Peace with Justice
    Dr. Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
    The Rt. Rev. Sanford Z. K. Hampton, Bishop Assistant, Diocese of Olympia (Episcopal)
    Tiffany Heath, Interim Legislative Director, Church Women United D.C.
    Joel Heim, Moderator, Disciples Peace Fellowship
    Rev. Charles Hubbard, Pastor, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (ELCA), Garland, Texas
    Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister, United Church of Christ
    Rev. R. Burke Johnson, President, Moravian Church - Northern Province
    The Rev. Sister Catherine Joy, CSF
    The Rev. Dale R. Kelley, Pastor, Soldotna United Methodist Church, Alaska Missionary Conference, former Executive Director, Alaskans Against the Death Penalty
    Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
    Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
    Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, President, The Rabbinical Assembly
    Archbishop Nicholas Lambrou, Archbishop-Primate, Autocephalous Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Americas
    Ven. Kobutsu Malone, zenji, Executive Director, The Engaged Zen Foundation, Ramsey, NJ
    James C. McCloskey, Founder and Director, Centurion Ministries, Inc.
    Rev. Melinda V. McLain, Editor, "The Pacific", newspaper for the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ
    J. E. McNeil, Executive Director, Center on Conscience & War (formerly NISBCO)
    Frank McNeirney, National Coordinator, Catholics Against Capital Punishment
    Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
    Rabbi Paul J. Menitoff, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
    Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, Executive Vice President, The Rabbinical Assembly
    Douglas Mirell, President, Progressive Jewish Alliance
    Sala Nolan, Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, United Church of Christ
    John D. Paarlberg, Minister for Social Witness and Worship, Reformed Church in America
    Murray Polner, Chair, Jewish Peace Fellowship
    Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., Honorary Chair, Moratorium 2000, and author, Dead Man Walking
    Rev. Judy Mills Reimer, Executive Director, Church of the Brethren General Board
    Dr. Robert H. Roberts, Interim General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
    Ellen Y. Rosenberg, Executive Director, Women of Reform Judaism
    Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Senior Rabbi, Central Synagogue, New York City
    Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
    Stuart A. Schlegel, Rector Emeritus, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Los Gatos, California
    Sister Susan Seitz, O.S.J., Pastoral Associate for Ministries, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Tyler, Texas
    Rita R. Semel, Executive Vice-Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
    Russ Siler, Director, Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Judith Silverman, President, Women of Reform Judaism
    The Rev. Melodee Smith, Clergy Coalition to End Executions
    Douglas Sturm, Professor of Religion, Emeritus, Bucknell University
    Susan Teshu, Leader, American Ethical Union
    Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
    Bishop James C. Timlin, Diocese of Scranton
    Joe Volk, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)
    Rev. Jim Wallis, Editor-in-Chief, Sojourners
    Mr. James E. Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church
    Harmon L. Wray, Executive Director, Restorative Justice Ministries, The United Methodist Church
    Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, Executive Director of National Ministries, American Baptist Church U.S.A.
    Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

# # #

    The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis .



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