Quakers & the death penalty

On July 25, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the federal government will resume executions of death row inmates after a nearly two-decade hiatus, countering a broad national shift away from the death penalty as public support for capital punishment has dwindled. The announcement reversed what had been essentially a moratorium on the federal death penalty since 2003. Five men convicted of murdering children will be executed in December and January at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., Mr. Barr said, and additional executions will be scheduled later.

In response to this, the following minute from Raleigh Friends Meeting was read at the Rise of Meeting on July 28, 2019:

Minutes Details:

Drafted by Raleigh Friends Meeting

The Society of Friends, Quakers, recognizes that there is "that of God" in every person. We believe that all persons are deserving of opportunities for redemption as long as life continues. We assert that all human lives are precious. We renounce violence as a solution to violence, whether in war or in punishment.

Therefore, we hold that the death penalty is wrong in any conceivable circumstance, and we call for its final abolition in the United States.

Contributing to the public debate on abolition, we believe that the following are true.

  • There is racial disparity in capital case indictments, in sentencing, and in the imposition of the death penalty.

  • There is class disparity in capital cases, leaving the poorest people least able to afford legal representation and most likely to face the death penalty.

  • Limits on appeals have left such people even more vulnerable and with even less legal representation.

  • There is growing evidence that innocent people are being sentenced to death and a growing probability that some of them may be or are being executed. The death penalty does not allow for human error. Our sad history in the United States is that innocent persons have been executed, at least 23 in the past century. We are appalled that the U.S. Supreme Court has voted, in cases involving new, post-trial evidence indicating possible innocence, that such evidence does not constitute grounds for retrial or for halting executions.

  • Capital punishment is destructive of the social fabric within which we live.