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A conservative case for capital punishment

By Steve Farrell
web posted March 21, 2005

Since the dawn of creation the law of God to man has been "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Today, we refer to this biblical principle in public law as capital punishment.
 
Interestingly, regardless of the fact that the death penalty's origin is found in the Bible, every society, religious or not, has adopted the death penalty as a suitable way to deal with murder. There is a good reason for this: The death penalty makes sense.
 
Think about it. As harsh a sentence as death is, the penalty fits the crime:
 
1. Murder is a crime for which the victim cannot come back and say, "I refuse to press charges." The victim has no voice.
 
2. Murder is a crime for which no payment by the criminal will ever fully satisfy the debt incurred. If one robs a store, the captured thief can pay back the debt, and in fact, under biblical law (which is better than today's law) would be tasked to work for the man he robbed until the debt was satisfied seven times the value of the good stolen. With such a bounteous payback, the thief is then freed, and by his honorable labor, restored to a position of trust.
 
But a murderer can never bring back life. Thus, no matter how hard he labors, he can never regain society's trust. His victim is dead and will remain dead.
 
3. The legitimate role of government involves the protection of life, liberty and property. Just as the role of the government is to raise an armed force and rain down deadly force upon a bloodthirsty invading army, so also the government is duty bound to inflict death upon the man who chooses to slaughter fellow citizens in her own backyard.
 
Few, if any, object to the use of deadly force against an invading army. Yet those invading soldiers, ordered to fight and likely whipped up by propaganda to go into battle, are far less deserving of death than the assailant who has been proven guilty and convicted in a court of law, by a jury of his peers, of shedding the innocent blood of his neighbor – and this of his own free will. Yet we do and must condone war in such situations. Governments must protect life. This is no less true regarding individual life.
 
4. Murder eventually revokes the full array of rights of citizenship. Some defend the murderer with the claim that he/she, like anyone else, has certain rights, including the right to life, which can never be taken away. This is true, prior to conviction. In this country we assume a person is innocent until proven guilty.
 
Therefore, the accused has all the same rights in the legal system as anyone else: i.e., the right to know the crime for which one is being charged, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to counsel, the right to face one's accusers, the right to trial before a jury of one's peers, the right against forced self-incrimination, the right not to be tried twice for the same capital crime (if declared innocent the first time around), and the right to appeal.
 
But after all this has taken place and the jury proclaims guilt and decrees a sentence and the convicted criminal has exhausted all appeals, his rights as an American citizen ought to end. He freely chose to break the law and take the life of a fellow citizen; he must not now be free to avoid the consequences of his heinous choice. If the jury assigns death, his fate ought to be sealed, his right to life terminated.
 
5. The Death Penalty is not, as social activist lawyer Clarence Darrow once claimed, "an act of revenge"; it is an act of justice.
 
Liberals and Libertarians have made hay of a few people, once upon a time, driving by a penitentiary in Michigan City, Ind., shouting "Burn, baby, burn!" as a man, who raped and strangled a mother and drowned each of her three children one by one, was electrocuted.
 
As to the "burn, baby, burn," let's address a more important issue. Even if the account is true, why do we suppose some people react that way? Could it be they are bearing testimony to the slayer and to future would-be slayers that murder hurts? Could it be they are witnessing to the murderer and to those who take murder lightly that murder is not just a crime against an individual, but against all those who loved that individual, all those who depended upon that individual, all those who were and may yet have been influenced by that individual, and all those who fear that a similar act might someday befall upon them or their loved ones?
 
Certainly, no sane human being pastes on his face a perpetual smile after a family member or fellow citizen has been brutally murdered, nor should he.
 
Consider the counsel of King Arthur to Sir Lancelot in the movie "First Knight": "A man who doesn't fear anything is a man who loves nothing." Or with slight adaptation: "A man who has never felt anger has never known love." Or, as founder Thomas Paine reflected on the proper reaction to the deaths, tortures and rapes being inflicted by the British upon America's sons and daughters, brothers and wives, neighbors and countrymen: "He that feels not now is dead."
 
Love is a very good and strong emotion. When the object of that love is threatened or destroyed, people who possess moral and emotional sense ought to react with equally strong emotion, if not outrage. Nor can anyone fully understand such emotions until they have been there themselves.
 
And so we wonder, could it be that some activist lawyers and pundits – who don't believe in Judeo-Christian morality anyway – are guilty of intentionally confusing revenge with righteous indignation and true love? One can be angry; one can insist that stiff penalties including death be administered as remedies, without being filled with hatred and vengefulness.

Thomas Paine
Paine

Again from Thomas Paine, regarding America's call to arms against England: "Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the soft resentment of a suffering people, who, having no object in view but the good of all …"
 
Even so, in an imperfect world, a spirit of revenge will exist in the hearts of some victims. Their bitterness, however, does not change the nature of the crime, the proof of the murderer's guilt, nor the necessity for proportional justice. Murder is still murder, regardless of emotion and the imperfections of victims.
 
6. The justice of the death penalty is strengthened, not weakened, by the advent of new technologies such as DNA testing, which have recently been utilized to more firmly establish guilt or innocence. It does not logically follow that the death penalty should be abolished because such evidence "might" have reversed the fate of some previously put to death. It's too late for that. What's past is past.
 
7. Racial profiling and rich/poor lawyer success rates are poor excuses to eliminate the death penalty, and thus rob justice. That some people inevitably "get off" because of the skill of a lawyer, because of celebrity status, or because of political power does not negate the validity of and necessity for laws and penalties. It should only motivate us to find a way to make these "untouchables" accountable before the law as well. We can't have anarchy.
 
8. Life imprisonment is a poor, immoral substitute for the death penalty. Such a plan heaps additional punishment upon victims by insisting that they pay for the living expenses, the education expenses, the recreation expenses, the medical expenses of the man who killed their kin. Such a plan is in fact socialism on behalf of butchers.
 
But even worse, life imprisonment unnecessarily puts at risk prison guards, lesser criminals, survivors, jurists, judges, lawyers, witnesses, family members, little children ... everyone.
 
Face it, murderers have been known to kill in prison, order a hit on a civilian while in prison, and to kill once they get out of prison. That's why the average murderer on death row has killed three people before finally being put to death. Further, who can doubt that their murderous attitudes influence other less violent prisoners to adopt similar tendencies when they are set free. Permitting a murderer to live is a paltry example of the so-called "progress of the law." Putting a man to death the first time around is better. It saves lives.
 
9. The swift use of the death penalty – besides eliminating the possibility of follow-on murders – deters (not eliminates) the commission of murder in the first place. An ancient prophet asked: "Now, if there was no law given – if a man murdered he should die – would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?"
 
This question won't go away. To assume and/or manipulate statistics in order to say that the death penalty does not deter crime is at best thoughtless, and at worst smacks of ulterior motives. The desire for rewards and the avoidance of punishments affect every human being. We spend our entire lives pursuing the one and avoiding the other, to the degree that the law and our native common sense and abilities aid us in that quest. Just look at the free market. Just look at the influence of religion. Just think about how our driving speed is affected by the presence of a police officer. To claim that the fear of punishment, and such a final punishment, does not deter murder is illogical. Our justice system's failure to swiftly and consistently apply justice, that is to swiftly and consistently administer the death penalty is the real deterrence to deterrence.
 
10. A society that honors the sanctity of life by putting to death those who are destroyers of life is not murderous but Godly. Allies of eliminating the death penalty often flout the religious command "Thou shalt not kill" back in the face of religious folks who advocate the death penalty. This presumptuous and fanatical approach to a command of God certainly misses the mark on the spirit of the command's intent and the command's supporting doctrines.
 
The Hebrew translation of the same scripture reads, "Thou shalt not murder." Murder is defined doctrinally not merely as killing, but more precisely as "shedding innocent blood." Putting to death a convicted murderer who has been afforded a fair trial, and who has exhausted every appeal, is not the shedding of innocent blood, and thus is not murder. As already cited at the start of this article, the Father of heaven and earth has also commanded: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
 
In this regard, we read also in Holy Writ: "For a commandment I give, that every man's brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own image have I made man." And then again: "Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed." Likewise, "[defend your] lands, [your] country, [your] rights, and [your] religion" even unto death.
 
Therefore, when "Thou shalt not murder" is placed right smack in the middle of the big picture – as all religious principles ought to be – we realize the commandment incorporates the inalienable right to self-defense and the moral duty to protect the life of those within our jurisdiction as parents, neighbors, citizens, and/or officers of the law.
 
Again, Thomas Paine persuades: "My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other."
 
The punishment that common moral sense signified was death to the villain or to the villains. Paine reminds those who would shrink at such a high moral duty: "[T]he blood of his children will curse his cowardice."
 
11. Finally, I address a question already alluded to but taken to an even greater extreme by a June 2000 National Review feature article, "The Problem With the Chair: A Conservative Case Against Capital Punishment." The question was asked: "If a democratic society executes criminals with the foreknowledge that some percentage of them are innocent, are all members of that society implicitly guilty of murder themselves?"
 
This off-the-mark, self righteous, and insulting question, nevertheless, deserves a frank answer. God is more just and merciful than that. It seems best to trust, as did our forefathers, that if we do the absolute best we can to uphold the laws of God and man, He will judge us by the intent of our hearts in those areas where we may have remotely failed. It is He who established the law for the death penalty. His law is good. To abolish His just and compassionate law in defense of criminals fairly tried and fairly convicted defies common sense, and strikes a legal blow at the laws and justice of God, whose laws are at the root of the American judicial system.

NewsMax pundit Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, press agent for Defend Marriage (a project of United Families International), and the author of the highly praised, inspirational novel, "Dark Rose" (available at amazon.com). For you West Coast night owls, try and catch Steve on Mark Edwards' "Wake up America!" talk radio show on 50,000-Watt KDWN, 720 AM, 10 p.m. to midnight, Monday Nights; or on the worldwide internet at AmericanVoiceRadio.com (preferred access at WakeUpAmericaFoundation.com. Contact Steve

 

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