June, 2014 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455, Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
First Sunday -Radisson – 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast - 10:00 Presentation
George Erickson, editor, email@example.com
Program - Karen Shragg, , author and Board Member of World Population Balance will present The Goose, The Deer and The Mirror: An Activist’s Wake Up call on the Solvable Issue of Overpopulation.
Speaking of hell, how about that death penalty that Oklahoma can’t get right – although hundreds of heroin addicts have done it quite well?Perhaps it’s time to use “Death Penalty – Right or Wrong?” as a coming program? Why, because many religions promote it, and most of the freethinkers I’ve queried are “not so enthused.” With that in mind here are some points to ponder:
HBO's John Oliver recently took on the death penalty, and when he asked for an explanation of the death penalty and when it is appropriate," he found Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, of the Bush administration, who believed in using the death penalty on "those who are guilty of committing the crime.” See - No problem!
In the U S, Rick Perry, who has presided over more than 200 executions, when asked during a debate if he is troubled that he might be executing the innocent, said, "Not at all."
And now, for more on the topic, here’s an excerpt from my 4th book – Eyes Wide Open: Living, Laughing, Loving and Learning is a Religion-troubled World.
Off With Their Heads?Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts would have objected to the question mark at the end of my title, preferring, instead, an exclamation point. But despite the fact that the Queen favored capital punishment, and I sometimes agree with her, that question mark must remain.
We have long argued that punishments should fit the crime. Even Gilbert and Sullivan echoed that sentiment in the "Mikado," a spoof set in early 20th-century Japan. In one of its famous passages, the Emperor sings "My object all sublime I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime!" And so, in the Mikado, a billiards hustler is condemned to play "On a cloth untrue with a twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls."
It would seem, therefore, that in cases of murder, Gilbert and Sullivan might sing along with "an eye for an eye" or "a life for a life." But if you know your "Mikado," you'll recall the Emperor's earlier, catch 22 decree that a person "Cannot cut off another's head until he's cut his own off."
The Queen of Hearts and Gilbert and Sullivan represent the capital punishment dilemma within the United States, where proponents and opponents each claim the majority, each citing polls that use different methods and timing. Taken during the height of a crime wave, it's often "thumbs up" for death by “whatever,” but a few months later, sentiments swing toward, "Aw, what the hell."
In the United States, the death penalty is reserved primarily for premeditated murders, such as murder for profit, multiple murders, or murder to silence witnesses. Some view the decline in executions as a tacit admission that the death penalty is immoral. Others counter that past overuse of the penalty argues not for its elimination, but only for a reduction. (In early Virginia the death penalty even applied to those who stole grapes or disbelieved in God)
Death penalty arguments usually focus on six areas:
1. Incapacitation: An executed murderer will never commit another crime. Society has a right to rid itself of deadly individuals, just as we seek out and destroy our own cells when they turn malignant. In that light, failing to eliminate murderers would seem irrational. However, if the convict is innocent, another crime will occur.
2. Deterrence: Proponents argue that murderers should not be allowed to outlive their victims, and that in the absence of the death penalty we are telling prospective murderers, "Don’t worry, no matter how many you torture or kill, YOUR life will be spared." Opponents claim that death penalties deter no one; that those intent on murder are either too driven or too deranged to consider the consequences, while others are convinced they will never be caught. Nevertheless, there are occasional admissions that the existence of a death penalty prevented an assault or robbery from escalating into a murder, which leads many to ask: If the death penalty deters even a few cases, why not keep it on the books?
3. Retribution or revenge: Although retribution is of limited importance to society as a whole, it can play a large part in allowing a victim's friends and relatives to make peace with their loss. Whether retribution should provide such a release is debatable, but the fact remains that, for many, it does.
4. Constitutional: Some assert that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment that is unconstitutional and inhumane. Others ask, "Is it not equally cruel to cage a person for the rest of their life?" In fact, a few prisoners, faced with that question, have demanded execution rather than face a life behind bars. Some commit suicide. Some proponents argue that murderers have shed their humanity, becoming beasts, and that in regretfully killing a killer, society reaffirms the value of the victim. Nevertheless, most of those who have attended an execution or have read detailed accounts of executions by gas, hanging or electrocution will confirm that the process is often revolting — a fact rendered supposedly moot by the introduction of painless, rapid-acting lethal injections – until Oklahoma.
5. Equality before the law: Opponents claim that the death penalty is used far more frequently against nonwhites, yet a study by L.W. Johnson, using Department of Justice statistics, reveals that although whites commit less than 40% of homicides, they represent more than half of the inmates on death row. What seems beyond dispute, however, is that capital punishment has often come to mean that those without the capital get the punishment. With the advantage of wealth, the sky is the limit, while others quickly exhaust their funds, and are forced to manage with court-appointed attorneys who operate on a limited budget and whose experience and interest in capital cases may be close to nil.
6. Cost factors: Execution advocates claim enormous savings compared to the expense of housing convicts for the rest of their lives. That may be, but it has little to do with the ethics of whether execution is appropriate punishment. An offsetting factor is that death penalties tend to generate more appeals and legal costs than life sentences. For example, one capital case underwent twenty court reviews, reached the Supreme Court four times, and involved 118 state and federal judges over a period of ten years.
Having reviewed the arguments, we now need to drill down to the "nitty gritty," a favorite phrase of Ross Perot. We need to decide how our philosophy informs our opinion. Assuming that we agree that the death penalty should be severely restricted, let's look at a few cases where I think it still should apply.
Consider Dan White, who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and then sought out and killed town supervisor Harvey Milk. Dan White, an overtly Christian, Caucasian male, escaped with a manslaughter conviction and was paroled after five and one-half years, despite convincing evidence of premeditation. His sentence is an example of unequal, inappropriate justice and an insult to society and the survivors. Mr. White later passed the appropriate sentence on himself and committed suicide.
Consider the physician who tortured his wife with unspeakable brutality, using acids and other atrocious means. She was left crippled, blind and deaf, barely able to speak or swallow, pleading to be helped to die. Modern medicine couldn't help her, and society allowed her murderer to continue his life on Earth. Should he have received a death sentence? Yes! Am I wrong? Maybe.
Consider the Chicago man who hired two thugs to rape and murder his wife so that he could use her insurance money to buy a motorcycle. He plea bargained down to a lesser charge, receiving life in prison, but many life sentences are later reduced. Should he have been executed? Why not?
Finally, I bring you two North Carolina men who went hunting. When they were unable to find anything to shoot, "not even a dog or a cow," they decided to kill a black person, which they did. Should they have been executed? Yes! Were they? No.
The sentencing of criminals deserves our close attention, but by focusing on the weeds, we often neglect the lawn. In my view, those who favor broad use of the death penalty are like doctors who prefer the certainty of amputation, claiming that corrective surgery, antibiotics, immunization and good nutrition are not 100% effective.
Instead, we need to prevent crime by reducing poverty and ignorance. We need family planning agencies that are not crippled with gag rules and restrictions engineered by the extremists of the religious right. We need economic opportunity to eliminate despair and to provide the hope of success. We need rich Americans to financially support the country and the people who made them wealthy, to turn away from amassing greater fortunes in offshore bank accounts to helping others build better lives. We need Americans who love their country more than they love their things.
As for enforcement, we need ample, well-trained, responsible police forces. We need more public and private support of civil liberties unions. We need prosecutors who seek the maximum provable indictment and who turn to plea bargaining only as a last resort. We need to (gasp) "socialize" law so that all defendants receive equal representation, sentencing and accommodations — no country club jails for the rich. We need court records to be available to those who determine verdicts and sentencing. We need mandatory sentences for specified crimes when prior convictions for violent crimes exist. And maybe we need to be less lenient on those who claim mitigation due to drug or alcohol use.
When education and social equity improve, perhaps there will be no need for capital punishment. But in the meantime, as we send soldiers off to murder and die in undeclared wars that are waged for economic gain or political advantage, many will continue to wonder why their deaths are lauded, while the execution of a tried and convicted murderer is not. As a consequence, in our less than perfect world, I reluctantly support tightly restricted, and racially unbiased use of the death penalty. Yet, because of my high regard for the many civil libertarians who dispute me, and my distaste at being in the company of the Queen of Hearts and “leaders” like G. W. Bush and Rick Perry, I hope someone proves me wrong.
Humanists put faith to test by giving schools free copies of atheist ‘bible’A free copy of a secular text called The Young Atheist’s Handbook is being sent to every secondary school in England and Wales, in a drive to help teens live well without religion.
The initiative, which is solely funded by public donations, is the latest effort from the British Humanist Association (BHA) to support the teaching of humanist ideas in schools.
The Young Atheist’s Handbook, written by science teacher Alom Shaha, recounts his personal journey, from growing up as a Muslim in a Bangladeshi community in London to eventually embracing atheism. It also includes his reflections on philosophy and theology.
The idea of sending the handbook to schools was brought forward by another science teacher, Ian Horsewell, who approached the BHA after reading the text himself.
Mr. Shaha told The Independent that he hoped the scheme would expose young people to ideas beyond their upbringing. “I wrote it with the hope that it would be read by teenagers.
“This is a fantastic way of just putting my book out there so that a few more young people might have access to it or stumble across it.
“I want to be very clear that this is not about proselytising – it’s not about converting people. It is just about giving people the opportunity to see another point of view.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said of the initiative: “We couldn’t be happier that young people everywhere will now have access to this wonderful book.
“Alom’s message will no doubt inspire young people who are looking to find fulfilment and meaning in their lives, whatever their family background.”
Mr. Copson believes the introduction of Mr. Shaha’s book into schools’ libraries will provide balance to the views and belief systems currently available to students during their education.
“We believe schools should be places where pupils are free to encounter the full range of philosophies and world-views available to them in modern Britain.”
The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Extracts
* “I feel that it is deeply unfair that some people may never experience the joy of knowing that they can lead a perfectly happy life, full of meaning and purpose, without God.”
* “I think the idea that it is immoral to not believe in God is perhaps the most insidious one that parents encourage to take root in the minds of young children."
Advice from Pastor SarahFaithful America is the largest and fastest growing online community of Christians, putting faith into action for social justice. They have watched the right-wing political agendas highjack the true messages of Jesus, and this faith-based organization will no longer be silent. In her ever smug and sarcastic way, Sarah Palin, made an incredibly hateful and insensitive statement. Speaking to a cheering NRA crowd, Sarah Palin spouted: "…Water-boarding is how we baptize terrorists."
From Austin Ruse, head of the Catholic Family and Human rights Institute:“The hard-left, human-hating people who run the universities… should be taken out and shot!”
From Arizona pastor Steven Anderson:Because the Bible requires women to “worship in silence,” pastor Steve told women not to interrupt him with “amens,” adding “It’s not for a woman to be doing the preaching, and it’s not got women to be doing the speaking.”