During the past several months, the rate at which
condemned criminals are being executed in the United States has steadily
increased, and with the several hundreds of condemned men that are now sitting
in death cells through the country, waiting to be killed, the rate of these
executions will undoubtedly continue to rise. With each execution however, a
public controversy arises concerning the morality and the legality of the death
penalty. This controversy is, of course, as old as history, and the arguments
pro and con, have changed but little with the years. Law enforcement officials
usually favor the death penalty on the grounds that it is the most convenient
and expedient way to get rid of criminals, and is necessary as a deterrent to
crime. Opponents question whether it is morally right to kill one's fellowman,
however convenient and expedient it may be.
Students of history will point out that, in medieval England,
the theft of anything having a value of more than six shillings was a capital
crime. Public executions were held on holidays, and large numbers of
townspeople as well as many from the countryside, gathered to enjoy this
special form of entertainment. The Town Crier always walked through the crowd
warning everyone to hold fast to their purses, because there would be many pickpockets
working amoung the throng! SO MUCH FOR DETERRENCE!
From the religious standpoint, some will quote the sixth
commandment, "Thou shalt not kill!" They will point out
that it is unequivocal, with no provision for legal license. Their opponents
will counter with the ancient Mosaic law, "An eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth." (A law which was obviously founded upon the belief that two
wrongs make a right, or that evil can be cancelled by repetition.)
There are several aspects of the situation which your
editor has never seen discussed in print. The usual public attitude toward the
criminal is that he or she is an enemy of society, and must be dealt with
accordingly. The fact is, however, that a criminal is more accurately described
as a failure of society, since the prime purpose of any society is to
create a human environment in which criminals do not develop! It
is a moot question therefore, whether society has the right to rid itself of
its failures by destroying them.
Some time ago, your, editor chanced to be one of the
members of a panel discussion group on a local radio station when the subject
of capital punishment came up for discussion. One of the members of the panel
stated that he viewed the problem simply as one of "garbage disposal"
and was strongly in favor of capital punishment as the simplest and most
effective method of disposing of "human garbage." The quite obvious
flaw in this reasoning is, of course, that it presupposes, and requires, an
infallible ability to determine exactly what constitutes human garbage!
Unfortunately, even the most cursory examination of the history of
jurisprudence will prove that the human race does not have, nor has it ever had
such infallible ability.
The Greek philosopher Socrates, was condemned to death
because he dared to teach his students that the moon was not a God who
rode through the sky each night on his chariot, but was only a ball of rock and
soil that might actually be as large as the entire hill of the Acropolis! This
and other such sacrilege sealed his doom. He was not the victim of mob passion,
he had received a fair and impartial trial by the highest tribunal in the land,
and one composed of the most highly educated and intelligent persons.
Regardless of their individual religious beliefs, very few
persons today would consider Jesus of Nazareth to have been 'human garbage',
yet He was tried, condemned and executed by due process of law.
The young woman known as Joan of Arc, was given one of the
fairest trials possible in her day. She was represented by consul, she was
allowed to testify in her own behalf, and call her own witnesses. After this
fair and impartial trial she was condemned to death as a witch and was burned
to death at the stake. (A sanitary if not very humane method of garbage
In most murder trials today 'expert testimony' plays a
fairly large part in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant. It
might be interesting therefore, to take a quick look at the solid foundation of
precedent upon which the acceptance of expert testimony rests. The first
recorded instance of the use of expert testimony in the annals of American jurisprudence,
is the testimony of Cotton Mather, in the Salem witchcraft trials. Cotton Mather
had written a book and several technical papers on the subject of witchcraft,
and so became known to be the foremost authority in the country. It was largely
as a result of his testimony that a number of women were hanged, and at least
two were burned to death. In 1958 the Supreme Court of the United States
finally got around to a consideration of these convictions. After long and
careful deliberation, the court announced that several of the convictions were
reversed. Henceforth, the women in question were to be considered innocent of
the crime for which they had been executed several hundreds of years before, by
a code of law which thought, and unfortunately still thinks that
it has the right and the infallible ability to usurp the prerogative of God in
determining whether a fellowman should live or die!
It is the humble opinion of the writer that, until the
reasoning power of man reaches a much higher level than it has yet achieved, we
have no right to inflict upon a fellowman any act which we cannot undo, or any
damage which we cannot repair.
There is, of course, no way of determining how many
persons have been executed for crimes they did not commit, but the number is
quite certainly larger than the average person would believe. There are enough
cases on record where proof of innocence was obtained only after the accused
had been executed, to indicate how many more there might have been whose
innocence was never established.
While there is no question that society must establish
means to protect itself from those who are strongly antisocial, whether they be
enemies or only failures of society, it is the writers opinion that, however
depraved and vicious they may be, they should not be approached with thoughts
of hate or vengeance, or even with thoughts of 'garbage disposal' but simply
with the sober reflection, "There, but for the grace of God go I."
(signed) Daniel W. Fry
Most of you know that I often say, "Don't
forget, count your blessings." This we could well afford to do daily
- yet never so much as at this beautiful and traditional time of true
It's a very special time of celebration, and appreciating
our bountiful harvest. A time of remembering our national heritage and our
Oh - we owe our pilgrim forefathers so much! Such as an
unpaid debt of eternal gratitude! It's a time to feast - to rejoice, to thank
our God and sing praises to Him for generously blessing our beautiful and
Have you looked about you lately and fully realized how
blessed YOU are? None of you are cold, homeless, hungry or feeling
Would you trade your tiny troubles for those of anyone
you know? Many of you send blessings to us and blessings to the
work of Understanding, for which we are truly grateful. Your prayers in our
behalf must be clearly heard because we ARE blessed and we KNOW
we are rich in having all our needs supplied and having each other.
Our wish is that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
(signed) Cleona Q. Fry
Cleona Q. Fry