Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
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Prominent Religious Leaders and Senator Russ Feingold Speak Out Against the Death Penalty, Release Letter Urging President Clinton to Impose A Moratorium on Federal Capitol Punishment

Contact: Jeff Mandell, (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON March 9, 2000 — At an afternoon press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) joined a group of prominent national religious leaders to announce the release of a letter signed by more than two dozen major religious organizations urging President Clinton to impose a federal death penalty moratorium.

Joining Senator Feingold as speakers were

  • The Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop of Las Cruces New Mexico;
  • The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Sr. Minister, Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, DC;
  • The Rev. Archie LeMone, Associate Director, Public Policy Office, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA;
  • Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Below are excerpts from the speakers' remarks, followed by the full text of the letter sent to President Clinton:

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI):

"In response to a question at a press conference on February 16, the President said that he thought Governor Ryan did ‘the right thing,' and that if he was in the Governor's shoes, he would consider doing the same thing. Well, with all due respect, the President is standing in the Governor's shoes. . . .
"The federal government needs to stop and think. When lives are at stake, pausing to carefully consider, or reconsider, the use of the federal death penalty is more than warranted — it is the right and moral thing to do. I urge the President, who has been thoughtful on so many issues, to exercise caution and leadership once again."

The Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, representingthe United States Catholic Conference/National Conference of Catholic Bishops

"As you know, the Catholic bishops in the United States have long advocated an end to the death penalty. We oppose capital punishment primarily because of what it does to us as a society: it perpetuates a terrible cycle of violence and the notion that we can settle our most intractable problems by resorting to violence."

The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Sr. Minister, Foundry United Methodist Church:

"I join with others today in appealing to all those in authority to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. That does not mean a moratorium on pursuit of crime. Punishment of criminal behavior must be swift and sure. The victims of crime and especially the survivors of the terrible crime of murder must be embraced by a caring community. But let there be a pause in our use of the death penalty to reassess its effectiveness and above all to ensure that it will not ever be imposed wrongfully or unfairly or as an instrument of hatred. Ultimately, we are all accountable to God in these matters. And if we are to make mistakes, let them be mistakes prompted by God's grace and a passion for fairness."
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Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations:

"When it comes to the death penalty, we cannot afford a system of justice that is inconsistent and arbitrary; we cannot afford to fall short of the absolute integrity that God demands of us in such matters. Nothing could be more of a nightmare and a miscarriage of justice than for the American people, through its government, to execute an innocent person.
"Mr. President, we urge you to rise above the cheap-shot politicians who pander to public wrath. We urge you by your example to rebuke the opportunistic demagogues who offer quick-fix solutions to the problems of crime, and are even prepared to accept wrongful executions. We urge you to speak out for justice — loud, proud, and unafraid. Mr. President, we call on you to follow the lead of Illinois Governor George Ryan. Until justice and fairness in our criminal justice system are ensured, human decency and Biblical values require that we put an end to this grisly march of legalized death."

The Rev. Archie LeMone, Associate Director, Office of Public Policy, National Council of the Churches of Christ USA

"It has been well established that it is less costly to sentence someone to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, than it is to impose capital punishment. It is also more than likely that, with the advent of scientific measurements and technology, such as DNA and other forensics, that those judged guilty have been properly exonerated That option is negated if the innocent is killed by the state. In that case, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall was right: What are we to say? Oops! . . .
"The church is concerned first and foremost with the question of justice. However, when issues such as the death penalty arise, it is ‘just us' in the minority community who pay an imbalanced price in the courts of law and on the modern ‘gallows'."

March 9, 2000

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President:

We write to urge you to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty by the federal government. Our nation is slowly realizing the truth of capital punishment: the death penalty, as applied in America today, threatens to shed innocent blood.

Recently, Illinois Governor George Ryan suspended executions in his state and appointed a commission to investigate why more death row inmates have been freed over the last twenty-four years than have been executed. In addition, thirty-three men who currently sit on Illinois' death row have been represented by attorneys who have since been either suspended or disbarred. Governor Ryan has demonstrated leadership and courage; no more innocent men and women will be executed on his watch. While we support the Department of Justice review on racial disparity in the imposition of the federal death penalty, we hope the review's scope will be broadened. We urge you to take the next logical step and impose a moratorium at least pending the review of that study.

Senator Feingold (D-WI) has written you and Attorney General Janet Reno calling for a national moratorium on the death penalty in federal cases. The use of DNA tests has proven the innocence of death row inmates and should be routine in capital cases. Undergraduate journalism students at Northwestern University presented evidence that proved death row inmate Ronald Jones innocent of murder.

The prophet Zechariah enjoins us: "See that justice is done." It is our solemn obligation not just to promote justice, but also to stand up and decry injustice when we witness it. The system for administering capital punishment is profoundly flawed. Indeed, since 1976, 611 persons have been executed, but 79 persons on death row have been proven innocent and released. We are particularly concerned about the poor and minorities who have been sent to death row without an opportunity to prove their innocence by DNA testing or have been denied competent legal counsel.

In America today, there are too many death penalty cases where guilt is later cast in reasonable doubt. There are too many death penalty cases where questions remain — or even arise — after the execution has occurred. And there are too many death penalty cases where the understandable desire for punishment overshadows the impartial pursuit of justice. Until these problems are addressed, we respectfully call on you to halt all federal executions. Here, as you well know, one mistake is too many.

Respectfully,

Stan Hastey
Executive Director, Alliance of Baptists

Rev. Dr. Daniel E. Weiss
General Secretary, American Baptist Church USA

Herbert Blinder
Director, Washington Ethical Action Office, American Ethical Union

Patricia Clark
National Representative for Criminal Justice, American Friends Service Committee

Richard Foltin
Legislative Director and Counsel, American Jewish Committee

Matthew Dorf
Director, Office on Governmental and Public Affairs, American Jewish Congress

Ed Dorr
President, American Humanist Association

Ken Sehested
Baptist Peace Fellowhip of North America

The Rev. Michael Dodd
Director, Columban Fathers Justice and Peace Office

Ann Delorey
Legislative Director, Church Women United

Senior Bishop Nathaniel Lindsey
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), USA

Cary Jossart
Legislative Associate, Washington Office, Church of the Brethren

Thomas H. Hart
Director of Government Relations, The Episcopal Church

H. George Anderson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Florence Kimball
Legislative Education Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. B.L. Hooks
Pastor, Greater Middle Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee

Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos
Ecumenical Officer, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Avram B. Lyon
Executive Director, Jewish Labor Committee

Kay Bengston
Assistant Director Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar
General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA

The Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office, Presbyterian Church USA

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Rabbi Eric Yoffie
President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

The Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter
Dean, Washington National Cathedral

The Rev. Meg A. Riley
Director, Washington Office for Faith in Action, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

The Rev. Dr. Jay Lintner
Director, Washington Office for Church in Society, United Church of Christ

Jane Hull Harvey
Assistant General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church

Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein
Executive Vice President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Sarrae G. Crane
Director of Social Action and Public Policy, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism


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