Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was colored with controversy before his plane ever touched the ground. Congressional Republicans and presidential contenders alike welcomed the pontiff while simultaneously pushing back on his extra-religious political agenda, some of which leans towards liberalism. While conservatives fretted over what Francis might say about climate change and capitalism, the unpredictable head of the Roman Catholic Church caught them off guard by addressing the death penalty.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress Thursday, Pope Francis advocated for “the global abolition of the death penalty.”
“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” said Francis.
Congress is unlikely to pursue the abolition of capital punishment anytime soon, but there could be trouble if it winds up back before the Supreme Court. In an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal this week, Justice Antonin Scalia said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if his colleagues on the Court voted away the death penalty.
And on Thursday, the national legal director of the ACLU, Steven Shapiro, said, “We can now see in the future a moment when the death penalty will be declared unconstitutional.” Shapiro said that by starting on the state level, death penalty opponents could achieve victory by following the “same-sex marriage playbook.”
Ah yes, the same-sex marriage playbook. Page One: Have Americans vote on whether or not gay marriage should be legal. Page Two: Check to see whether the democratic opinion on gay marriage matches your own. Page Three: Overturn democratic opinion with flimsy legal rationale. Page Four: Jail Christians who refuse to get with the program.
Well, you can’t say it isn’t effective.
Their path to victory may even be easier in this case. Legal experts scratched their heads when the Supreme Court cited the 14th Amendment as the basis for gay marriage, but there’s nothing in the Constitution specifically providing for the death penalty. The Fifth Amendment makes reference to capital crime, but the Court isn’t shy about employing creative interpretation when it suits their political bent.
Whether you agree with the Pope or not, you have to appreciate his logical consistency. The man is pro-life, cherishing both murderers and unborn children. Compare him to liberals who light candles for some of America’s most heinous monsters but think nothing of tossing a million babies a year in the nearest medical waste bin.
But if every life is sacred, what are we to say of Richard Burke? A corrections officer at Florida State Prison, Burke was killed in 1980 by a Muslim prisoner already on death row for a double homicide conviction. His killer, Askari Abdullah Muhammad, was one of 34 Americans put to death in 2014, executed in the very same prison.
“This is where my dad took his last breath,” said Burke’s daughter, Carolyn Thompson.
What are we to say of 17-year-old Kelli Hall? She was raped, strangled, and left to die behind a gas station in St. Charles, Missouri in 1989. Her killer, Jeffrey Ferguson, was also put to death last year, despite having supposedly been in an alcohol-induced blackout when he committed his foul crime.
Each one of the 34 convicts killed in 2014 took sacred lives, leaving behind a trail of misery and grief. When we argue about the sanctity of life, the power of forgiveness, the costs of death row, and the definition of cruel and unusual punishment, let’s not forget that central fact. Save your tears for those who deserve them.