Monday, November 07, 2005
On this day:

Birmingham News has a "change of mind and heart" on the death penalty

The News is explaining its new position in a series of five editorials that began Sunday. The first two installments are here and here.

From Sunday:

Why? Because we have come to believe Alabama's capital punishment system is broken. And because, first and foremost, this newspaper's editorial board is committed to a culture of life.

Put simply, supporting the death penalty is inconsistent with our convictions about the value of life, convictions that are evident in our editorial positions opposing abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and euthanasia. We believe all life is sacred. And in embracing a culture of life, we cannot make distinctions between those we deem "innocents" and those flawed humans who populate Death Row.

Faith tells us we all are imperfect, but we're not beyond redemption. We believe it's up to God to say when a life has no more purpose on this Earth.

We are not turning soft on crime. Remember, the alternative to the death penalty is not leaving predators free to kill again. The alternative to execution is life in prison without any chance, ever, for parole. That is enough to protect the public.

The problem with the News' "culture of life" argument, as it relates to the death penalty, is that a civilized society can and must make distinctions between "innocents" and those who commit the most heinous crimes. There are certain crimes that are so depraved, so fundamentally at odds with the norms of civilized behavior, and so subversive of liberty that the only suitable punishment is death. There is no contradiction in holding that "all life is sacred" while also believing that a free society should retain the death penalty as a means for its own preservation. We shouldn't take pleasure in administering the death penalty, but it seems to me that we shouldn't recoil from it when it is necessary, either.

The News says that its recommended alternative to the death penalty, life without parole, would be "enough to protect the public," but I would question their premise. The punishment of criminal acts isn't just about "protecting the public." Equally important is the enforcement of public morality through retribution that is commensurate to the crime. Abolishing the death penalty would undermine that legitimate state function by depriving it of a principal instrument of deterrence and punishment. Maybe that's not "soft on crime," but it's certainly soft on criminals.