Call to end death penalty

A coalition of interfaith leaders to deliver an appeal to the governor and the General Assembly

January 14, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,matthew.brown@baltsun.com

With the General Assembly session set to open today, an interfaith coalition of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders is urging lawmakers to repeal Maryland's death penalty.

"Life has been entrusted to us by God," Bishop Denis J. Madden of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore said yesterday. "When one deliberately takes away the life of another for any cause, one moves against the creator of life itself."

Bolstered by a state task force recommendation last month that the death penalty be abolished, Madden and other leaders signed a letter urging Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly to repeal "the law allowing for the state execution of men and women."

"Common to all of our faiths is the belief in the sanctity of life and forgiveness," reads the letter, which the coalition planned to deliver today to lawmakers in Annapolis. "Even for one who has murdered - never should we or our government on our behalf deny the prospect of redemption."

O'Malley, long an opponent of capital punishment, describes abolishing the death penalty as one of his top priorities.

The Democratic governor selected most of the members of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which pointed to racial and regional biases, financial costs and the possibility of executing an innocent person as reasons to eliminate the death penalty.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and a member of the commission, said that he and state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, another Baltimore 41st District Democrat and the majority whip, are likely to introduce legislation this session that would reflect its recommendation.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said such a measure would likely pass the House. But it still could face opposition in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which has stymied previous efforts at repeal.

Madden, also a member of the commission, was joined at First and St. Stephen's United Church of Christ in Towson by the Rev. Peter K. Nord, spiritual leader of the Presbytery of Baltimore and chairman of the Ecumenical Leaders Group; Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Johnny Golden of New Unity Church Ministries, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and Anees Abdul Rahim, assistant imam of the Muslim Community and Cultural Center of Baltimore.

"All of us as religious people stand for the sanctity of life," Fink said. "The death penalty neither elevates nor enhances life for us."

Golden described capital punishment as "unjust," "inequitable" and "unfair." Rahim urged lawmakers to exercise the power granted them by voters with humility.

"The only one that has the power to take life is he who can give life," he said. "I don't know any human being who is capable to give life."

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