Justice and Witness Ministries lauds end of juvenile executions
March 1, 2005
The UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries hailed a March 1 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty for juveniles.
By a narrow 5-4 decision, the high court ruled it unconstitutional for courts to impose capital punishment on those who were juveniles at the time they committed their crimes. As many as 70 death row inmates were immediately affected by the decision.
Since 1969, the UCC's General Synod has adopted multiple resolutions pointing out the gross injustices and racial inequalities associated with the death penalty, calling for its abolishment.
In 1999, the church's national representative body called for a moratorium on executions, and in 2001, the General Synod affirmed the right of juveniles to an "equitable system of justice."
The Rev. Sala W.J. Gonzales Nolan, the UCC's minister for criminal justice and human rights, said the Supreme Court's action is further evidence that the United States is coming to a new understanding about the immorality of state-sanctioned executions.
The United States remains one of the last industrialized countries in the world to impose the death penalty.
"It is one thing to oppose the death penalty because it is unfair," Nolan said. "It is another to oppose it simply because it is wrong.
"Again and again, the United Church of Christ has called out the disproportionate number of black, Hispanic, poor and disabled people who occupy death row," she said, "but this has nothing to do with why the death penalty is wrong. To take someone's life deprives that person absolutely of the ability to transcend, as we were all meant to do. This is why vengeance does not belong to us."
The legality of the death penalty, especially for juveniles, has long been an important advocacy issue for the UCC, said the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, JWM's executive minister.
"If there is one constant issue that our [global] partner churches ask us about, it's about the death penalty in the United States," Jackson said. "Now we can look them in the eye and say that children can no longer be legally executed anywhere on earth. Thanks be to God."
Nolan emphasized that the narrow margin of the court's decision presented some cause for concern. "We must remain vigilant," she said.