Nebraska is showing the most visible signs of a change in thinking by Christians and conservatives on the death penalty, and Catholics are helping to lead the way. For many, the catalyst has been a simple question: “If I value life, how can I support taking a life when the death penalty doesn’t make us any safer?”
In response, more are embracing a consistent life ethic.
Three times in the past month, the Nebraska Legislature voted for a bill to repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. The governor has promised to veto the legislation, and an override vote is looming. Many of the Christian lawmakers made it clear they cast their votes against the death penalty, in part, to promote a whole life ethic.
The leader of the group is Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, a Catholic who put his personal reasons for opposing capital punishment into one easily understood phrase. “I am pro-life,” he said.
Coash and his colleagues are also interested in enacting public policies based on facts, as well as on faith. They have studied capital punishment in detail and have determined it does nothing to contribute to our safety.
They’re concerned about the 153 people released from death row for wrongful convictions and the death penalty’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, the poor and those with intellectual disabilities.
“Is the death penalty truly effective as a deterrent?” Coash asked. “There’s absolutely no evidence that we’ve seen that the death penalty acts as a deterrent.”
Nebraska conservative Christian politicians are not operating in a vacuum. This year in Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and South Dakota, their counterparts sponsored bills to repeal capital punishment. In South Dakota, a Republican state representative who is an evangelical pastor changed his mind on the death penalty and sponsored the bill to repeal it. Conservatives in red states such as Tennessee, North Carolina and Montana, as well as Nebraska, have formed groups to question the death penalty.
According to a recent poll, roughly half of voters in Nebraska support replacing the death penalty with an alternative such as life in prison. That aligns with polling of Americans nationwide. For a growing number of Christians, opposition to the death penalty remains fundamentally grounded to one issue — their commitment to promoting a culture of life.
“We must all be careful to temper our natural outrage against violent crime with a recognition of the dignity of all people, even the guilty,” the Catholic bishops of Nebraska said in a joint statement on March 17.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service