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Reform Jewish Movement Reacts to Resumption of Federal Executions

Davidson: "Let us, too, observe a moment of silence to mourn the victims, and the fact that we as a nation have resumed the grisly business of executions."

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

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2001 - Following the execution of Timothy McVeigh, the first federal government execution in almost forty years, David Davidson, Chair of the Commission on Social Action for Reform Judaism, issued this statement:

    The execution of Timothy McVeigh, at 7:14am (Central Time) this morning was more than the death of a convicted terrorist. Today, for the first time in almost forty years, the federal government has taken a life in the name of all its citizens. We speak in opposition to this despite our profound abhorrence for McVeigh's worldview and for the devastating act which he committed. We speak because McVeigh's death marks the resumption of federal executions despite increasing public doubt about the fairness of the death penalty, and mounting evidence that our system of capital punishment is biased and flawed. We speak because we are fundamentally opposed to the death penalty.

    The Federal death row is now over 80% African-American and Latino. Most of the people who sit on it are from the districts of a handful of U.S. attorneys, and most are poor. Ninety-six people have been exonerated and released from state death rows since 1976, eight in 2000 alone. Just last week, the governor of Maryland posthumously pardoned a man executed by his state decades ago. Capital punishment, like every human system, is inevitably flawed by human error. The price we pay for executing the clearly guilty is the fact that we will put innocent people to death as well. This is a price that is far too high for a moral society to bear.

    Since 1959, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have formally opposed the death penalty. The UAHC advocates, "we believe that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime…We appeal to our congregants and to our co-religionists and to all who cherish God's mercy and love to join in efforts to eliminate this practice [of capital punishment] which lies as a stain upon civilization and our religious conscience." The CCAR has resolved that capital punishment "does not act as an effective deterrent to crime." In 1999, the UAHC reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty, and called for a national moratorium of the death penalty until the criminal justice system that imposes it resolves its deep-rooted problems.

    Early this morning, death penalty abolitionists in Terre Haute created a Circle of Silent Witness. For 168 minutes before the scheduled execution - one minute for each of the bombing victims - they stood in silence, expressing sorrow for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, their friends and family, the family of Timothy McVeigh, and those who carried out his execution. Let us, too, observe a moment of silence to mourn the victims, and the fact that we as a nation have resumed the grisly business of executions."


    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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