Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Religious Leaders Petition President Clinton for Clemency for Juan Raul Garza and for a Moratorium on Federal Executions

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2000 — Many Jewish leaders joined more than seventy other religious leaders from a wide spectrum of faiths in calling on President Clinton to grant clemency to Juan Raul Garza and to institute a moratorium on federal executions. The leaders sent a letter to the President today.

The 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; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, President of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, President, The Rabbinical Assembly; Jack Stern, President, American Jewish Congress; Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President, Jewish Life Network; and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, President, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In addition, Professor Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, is among the signatories.

Mr. Garza's execution, set for December 12, will be the first federal execution in almost forty years. Voicing their strong moral and ethical support for a moratorium on executions, the religious leaders commented that "serious questions regarding the fairness of the administration of the federal death penalty are squarely before" the President.

A Mexican-American, Mr. Garza is representative of the racial and geographic disparities exposed in the recent Justice Department survey of the federal capital punishment system. The Department's own statistics reveal that nearly 70 percent of defendants sentenced to federal capital have been members of racial minorities. The study also shows that U.S. Attorneys in a handful of states are responsible for submitting nearly half of all potential federal capital prosecutions for approval by the Attorney General. The President has acknowledged that he is "troubled" by the results of the Justice Department survey, which, according to the Attorney General, is still on going.

Believing in the sanctity of life, including that of crime victims and of those who are convicted of crimes, this diverse group of clergy and lay religious leaders from across the nation appealed to President Clinton not to make the resumption of federal executions after forty years part of his legacy. In calling upon the President to grant clemency to Mr. Garza and to declare a moratorium on federal executions, these representatives of the nation's faith communities also asked the President to pay heed to the fact that more Americans have reservations about the death penalty than at any time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

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; Archbishop Nicholas Lambrou, Archbishop-Primate, Autocephalous Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Americas; Senior Bishop Nathaniel Lindsey, CEO Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; 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 Ahmaddiyya Movement of Islam, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the American Ethical Union.

The full text of the letter with signatories follows:

December 4, 2000

Dear President Clinton:

On the eve of your departure from office, the nation is on the eve of the first federal execution in nearly forty years. We write to urge you to declare an executive moratorium on federal executions and to grant clemency to Juan Raul Garza. The United States should not carry out this death sentence at a time when the nation questions the reliability and fairness of capital punishment.

The overwhelming majority of communities of faith are united in their opposition to the death penalty. We address you as members of religious organizations that minister daily to the profound suffering caused when a life is taken by an act of violence. However, we are called upon to guard the sanctity of every life. We also give comfort to the children and other loved ones of the condemned when the government carries out an execution. Alternatives to capital punishment, including life in prison without the possibility of release, will both protect society and ensure that justice is done.

In the past year, calls by the faith community to support a moratorium on executions have been joined by a diverse chorus of voices, including those of respected members of all three branches of government, public figures across the political spectrum, local and state governing bodies, civil rights leaders, professional associations and grass roots organizations. At no time since the death penalty was halted in 1972, have Americans, individually and collectively, expressed such grave reservations about capital punishment.

Concerns over the continued imposition of the death penalty involve not only issues of wrongful convictions, incompetent counsel and prosecutorial misconduct, but also the inadequacy of judicial review, the unequal treatment of the poor and people of color, and geographic disparities. The public and policymakers are facing the unpleasant reality that capital punishment is most often reserved for those at the margins of society. Until recently, the focus of criticism was largely on state capital punishment systems. Now, however, serious questions regarding the fairness of the administration of the federal death penalty are squarely before you.

We commend your forthright decision in August to grant Mr. Garza a reprieve until December 12, 2000, so that he would have the opportunity to seek clemency under new federal guidelines. Shortly before you ordered the reprieve, you spoke of your concern about the "disturbing racial composition" of federal death row and about evidence that a handful of federal districts have accounted for more than half of the cases in which federal capital prosecution has been sought. When the Department of Justice released a survey of the federal death penalty in September, White House spokesperson Jake Siewart confirmed your view that "these numbers are troubling," and that more information must be gathered to determine "more about how the system works and what's behind those numbers," including "why minorities in some geographic districts are disproportionately represented." We believe that even Americans who support capital punishment will agree that no federal execution should proceed until these questions are answered and the nation is assured that the federal death penalty is neither biased nor arbitrary in its application.

During your remarks at the Democratic National Convention, you spoke with admiration and appreciation of President Carter's enduring contribution to advancing human rights around the globe. Our Ambassador to France, Felix Rohatyn, has written that the continued imposition of the death penalty "casts a shadow" on our country's image as the flagship of freedom and democracy. And, President Carter and Mrs. Carter have now urged you to grant clemency to Mr. Garza and expressed their support for a moratorium on federal executions. We are confident that your decision to declare a moratorium — an act of courage and leadership — would be respected by the nation and by our allies.

In closing, there is strong evidence that Americans are troubled that capital punishment is not administered equitably or impartially, and there is now growing support for a moratorium on executions. To execute Mr. Garza at a time of such ferment and debate is to act precipitously. A declaration of an executive moratorium and a grant of clemency for Mr. Garza will acknowledge the legitimacy of the reservations that are on the minds and in the hearts of so many and assure the country that an investigation into questions surrounding the federal death penalty will continue until satisfactory answers are found.

We urge you to embrace this legacy.


C. Naseer Ahmad
Human Rights Committee
Ahmaddiyya Movement of Islam

Randall S. Best, President
North Carolina Society for Ethical Culture

Herbert Blinder, Director
Washington Ethical Action Office
American Ethical Union

Msgr. Eugene J. Boyle
Diocese of San Jose

Rev. Amos C. Brown
Third Baptist Church, Inc., San Francisco

The Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens, President Unitarian Universalist Assn. of Congregations

Lisel Burns, Senior Leader
Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture

Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell

Rev. Paul Chaffee
Interfaith Center of the Presidio, San Francisco

The Rev. Jerrye Champion, National President Church Women United

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

Joseph P. Daoust, S.J., President
Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley

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

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, President
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale
St. Marks Lutheran Church, San Francisco

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, President
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Father Joe Fahy

Kathleen Foy, Leader
American Ethical Union

Dr. Michael S. Franch, Member, National Leaders Council of the American Ethical Union; Affiliate Minister, First Unitarian Church, Baltimore, Md.

The Rev. Cannon Charles P. Gibbs
Executive Director, United Religions Initiative

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary
The Reformed Church in America

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President
Jewish Life Network

Joseph K. Grieboski, President
Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Inc.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church, USA

Rev. Margot Campbell Gross
First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco

Howard Hallman, Chairman
Methodists United for Peace with Justice

The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Tiffany Heath, Interim Legislative Director Church Women United Washington D.C. Office

Susannah Heschel,
Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies Dartmouth College

Charles Horwitz, former President
Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture

Dr. Kathleen S. Hurty, Executive Director Church Women United

R. Burke Johnson, President
Moravian Church-Northern Province

Florence C. Kimball
Legislative Education Secretary Friends Committee on National Legislation

Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

Rabbi Charles Kroloff, President
Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Vernon H. Kurtz, President
The Rabbinical Assembly

Archbishop Nicholas Lambrou
Autocephalous Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Americas

Senior Bishop Nathaniel Lindsey, CEO Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. John Lo Schiavo, S.J., Chancellor University of San Francisco

John N. Marsh, Minister
First Unitarian Universalist Church, San Francisco

James C. McCloskey, Founder & Director Centurion Ministries, Incorporated

William McKinney, President
Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley CA

Frank McNeirney, National Coordinator Catholics Against Capital Punishment

Rabbi Paul J. Menitoff
Executive Vice President
Central Conference of American Rabbis

Dr. Randolph Nugent, General Secretary General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

Sister Helen Prejean

John D. Paarlberg
Minister for Social Witness and Worship Reformed Church in America

Jean Rabenold, President
Unitarian Universalists for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

The Very Rev. William W. Rankin
President and CEO
Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance

Rev. Judy Mills Reimer, Executive Director Church of the Brethren, General Board

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

Rev. Dr. Robert H. Roberts
Interim General Secretary
American Baptist Churches U.S.A.

Rev. Peter Ruggere
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns

Rev. Keith A. Russell, President
American Baptist Seminary of the West

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Rita R. Semel, Executive Vice Chair
San Francisco Interfaith Council

Rev. Melodee Smith
Clergy Coalition to End Executions

Rev. Don Southworth
First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco

Jack Stern, President
American Jewish Congress
Rev. Laird J. Stuart
Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco

Douglas Sturm, Co-chair
Community Alliance for Respect & Equality

Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, Bishop of California Episcopal Church

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

Rev. Dominic Totaro, S.J., Director
Jesuit Centre

Rev. Jim Wallis, Editor-in Chief

Rev. Ashlee Wiest-Laird, Associate Pastor Seattle First Baptist Church

Charles B. Wilson, MD, MSHA, Director Institute for the Future

Dr. James E. Winkler, General Secretary General Board of Church and Society United Methodist Church

Bart Worden, Leader
Westchester Ethical Society

Harmon L. Wray, Executive Director Restorative Justice Ministries
The United Methodist Church

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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