California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Utah Catholics lead fight against Gardner's execution

Utah's Roman Catholic leaders are expressing dismay that, for the first time in more than a decade, the state is poised to execute an inmate.

The Salt Lake City diocese is urging parish priests to remind Catholics what the church teaches about the death penalty: that it cannot be justified when there are other ways to keep society safe.

The message to priests was included in the weekly bulletin sent to parishes where 300,000 Utah Catholics worship.

It urges Catholics to learn more about the issue on the Web sites of a new anti-death penalty group in Utah (http://www.utadp.org/) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Campaign to end the death penalty (www.usccb.org/deathpenalty).

Dee Rowland, the head of the diocese's Peace and Justice Commission, says there will be a prayer vigil at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City in the hours before any execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner this spring.

The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church is that states can legitimately use the death penalty if it is the only possible way to defend human life against an unjust aggressor, according to the bishops' Web site.

But for 25 years -- led, in part, by the teachings of Pope John Paul II -- the U.S. bishops have called for an end to executions in this country because killers can be locked up for life in secure prisons.

"We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders," reads a 1999 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was included in the bulletin to Utah parishes. "The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life."

The bishops' campaign apparently is changing Catholic minds. The percentage of American Catholics who support capital punishment dropped from 70 percent in the late 1990s to 48.5 percent in 2005, according to surveys by Zogby International. Younger Catholics are much more likely to oppose state executions.

Not only does execution shorten the life of a person who may seek forgiveness -- and possibly salvation -- if allowed a natural life span, Rowland says, but it also hurts society.

"Mostly," she says, "it's what it does to us, making us all participants in the death of a person when it is not in self-defense."Other faith communities are likely to join in with protests and vigils before any Utah execution.

Utah Episcopalians always have protested executions, says the Rev. W. Lee Shaw, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in West Valley City.

He has attended many such protests through the years in Utah and California. He recalls a former Episcopal bishop, George Bates, demonstrating outside the Utah governor's mansion before an execution.

"There have been a variety of venues for this," Shaw says, "but it is always consistent that people of faith have opposed the killing of an individual."

The Utah-based LDS Church takes no position on the issue.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regards the question of whether and in what circumstances the state should impose capital punishment as a matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law," according to a statement on the church's Web site. "We neither promote nor oppose capital punishment."

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, April 16, 2010

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