A bipartisan group of legislators have introduced House Bill 702. If enacted, this bill would repeal the death penalty in Georgia and replace it with life without parole. This powerful action would move our state even further in the pro-life direction it has already undertaken. As Episcopalians, we uphold the dignity and value of all human life, even in the case of someone who has done great harm.
The opportunity to better align Georgia’s law with Jesus’s call for mercy is increased this year by a continuing shift in public opinion. A December 2019 poll of Georgia voters found 56% favored replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
While this is the first time such legislation to be considered in Georgia, we Episcopalians are not new to this effort.
In 1958, The Episcopal Church General Convention went on record as rejecting the death penalty. In 1976, When the Supreme Court of the United States reinstated the death penalty, Bishop Bennett Sims joined his Roman Catholic counterpart in opposing the resumption of executions. Successive General Conventions have reasserted the Episcopal Church’s opposition to capital punishment. In his Feb. 28, 2020 For Faith message, Bishop Rob Wright called for replacing the death penalty with life without parole.
It’s important to remember that being in favor of replacing executions with life without parole does not mean we devalue crime victims and their families. The thing is Jesus taught compassion for victims and perpetrators. Opposition to the death penalty does not mean lack of compassion for the pain and suffering of the victims or their families.
As Jesus-led people, we cannot accept the demonstrated risk of wrongful conviction, leading to the execution of an innocent person. Six people have already been exonerated from death row in Georgia. The imposition of the death penalty has been shown to be riddled with racial bias and unequal justice for the accused. In addition, millions of dollars are spent on each capital trial, incarceration, and lengthy appeals, for every death row inmate. This money would be better invested in solving other crimes, investing in education to prevent crime, and providing more services to victims and their families.
For this bill to pass, we need to move quickly to encourage our legislators to hold a hearing on House Bill 702 in the Georgia House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. That is the first step toward moving it to a vote on the floor of the House.
There are two targeted actions that we are asking Episcopalians to take to help increase the likelihood of this hearing taking place:
1. Most importantly – contact your legislators directly (in person, phone, letter, or email) and ask them to urge Speaker David Ralston and Chairman Chuck Efstration to hold a hearing as soon as possible on House Bill 702. Information on how to contact legislators about this bill (with sample wording) are included in this document.
2. Conduct a signature drive for a petition to legislators, urging them to hold a hearing on House Bill 702 as soon as possible.
Diocesan contact: Community Engagement Director Don Plummer, firstname.lastname@example.org.