This morning brought another interesting take on capital punishment from the blog “ConservaTibbs” by Scott Tibbs. Last week, I responded to his contention governments here should abolish lethal injection and should take back up firing squads, hanging, or electrocution as means by which people “who deserve to die” are executed.
Today, Mr. Tibbs, on his “Conservatibbs” blog, first set forth the philosophical foundation of his support for capital punishment—that it “is the clear commandment of Scripture for the civil magistrate to use capital punishment for certain crimes.” He concludes: “We should address and repair the flaws in our death penalty system instead of rebelling against the clear commandment given to us by God.”
This places the matter of capital punishment in a different context. One would infer people do not execute people. Rather, a supreme deity made them do it. I infer from Mr. Tibbs’s past blogs and from the use of the capitalized “Scripture,” Mr. Tibbs means the supreme deity of the bible. This is somewhat new as an argument. We must employ capital punishment, because to do otherwise would be some sort of societal sin.
Let us examine the “philosophical foundation” of the argument put forward by Mr. Tibbs.
First, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides, in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...” Constitutional scholars, appellate lawyers and others refer to the first ten words of the Amendment as the “Establishment Clause.” In an early Establishment Clause case, Justice Hugo Black wrote for a majority of the Court: “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.” To advocate capital punishment because one’s religion somehow requires capital punishment tends to “prefer one religion over another.” That position also would leave people who believe there is no supreme deity on the sidelines.
Second, there are some denominations, sects, or other subdivisions of the Christian faith that oppose capital punishment. The first members of the Small family to set foot on the North American continent in the 1670s fled persecution, in Wales, as members of the Society of Friends, known commonly as Quakers. Other Christian groups openly oppose the death penalty, among them: Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Presbyterian Church, Episcopalian Church, and the Church of Christ. In his 1996 “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope John Paul II wrote that cases where the death penalty would be absolutely necessary “are very rare if not practically nonexistent.” One could argue Jesus Christ’s admonition to let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone at a woman who committed adultery means people are flawed. He added that the person should go forth and sin no more. The problem with quotes from the bible is similar to the same exercise in regard to Thomas Jefferson: one can find a quote for just about any position one chooses to take. The ultimate question becomes: Who communicates to us what the wishes of this particular supreme deity are to be?
Third, Mr. Tibbs implicitly endorses the death penalty for crimes other than murder when he mentions “capital punishment for other crimes.” Mr. Tibbs gives no indication of what those “other crimes” might be. For an indication of those “other crimes,” one might turn to “the commandment of Scripture” not simply for guidance but for—commandment. Blasphemy is punishable by death. Leviticus 24: 10-16. In addition to murder, also punishable by death are adultery (Lev. 20), bestiality (Lev. 20), rape (Deuteronomy 22), sodomy (Lev. 18 and 20, but disagreed with by the United States Supreme Court in Richards v. Texas), witchcraft (Exodus 22:20—and sorry, Harry Potter) and kidnaping (Ex. 21:16.) Also, a betrothed woman who does not cry out while being raped shall be put to death. Deut. 22: 23-24. Also, a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night presumably had her last meal at the wedding reception. (Deut. 22: 13-22.) No mention is made of punishment for a man found out not to be a virgin on the wedding night. One may infer Mr. Tibbs, or those to whom he entrusts such judgments, will determine how we carry out the death penalty for these transgressions. There is no discretion as to whether we shall execute for these transgressions. After all, “Scripture” requires the ultimate penalty for these ultimate sins.
I agree with some of Mr. Tibbs’s statements. We should try to ensure any person punished under our laws truly is guilty of the crime charged. Unfortunately, money has a lot to do with such matters. Very rich people often are not charged with crimes. It is interesting that blood samples from Jim Irsay’s case have yet to be analyzed to determine whether he can be charged with Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated.
However, overall Mr. Tibbs advances a position based on a flawed premise. Individuals are free to base their moral views on whatever belief system they wish. We cannot structure our government based on one specific religion, adherents to which disagree amongst themselves as to what their belief on this specific issue—the death penalty—should be.
I would enjoy a debate with Mr. Tibbs on “Civil Discourse Now.” I extend an invitation to him for such a debate: Resolved: we should not base capital punishment on Scripture. I would take the affirmative—that means I would have the burden of proof. See? I would try to give him some sort of advantage. Reasons that support his argument, to quote the late Pope John Paul II, “are very rare, if nonexistent.”
We should abolish capital punishment—period. And while we’re at it, we should outlaw the designated hitter in Major League Baseball.