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SUNDAY, MARCH 6, 2005
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EDITORIAL

U.S. Supreme Court right to ban juvenile executions

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed juvenile capital punishment last week in a 5-4 ruling.

Prior to the decision, 19 states — including Alabama — allowed executions for those younger than 18.

The ruling throws out the death sentences of 72 murderers who committed their crimes when they were younger than 18 and prohibits states from seeking to execute minors.

Death penalty opponents greeted the decision with enthusiasm, while victims' advocacy groups reacted with anger.

It is simply wrong to put youthful offenders — with so much of their lives ahead of them and so much potential — to death.

One of the aims of punishment is behavior modification — to inspire remorse in the offender and motivate him to change his ways. Teenagers hold more potential for this kind of life-changing experience than any other segment of our society.

In the case of capital punishment, of course, there is no chance for rehabilitation.

It is strange that the segment of our society most strongly supporting capital punishment is the so-called religious right — mainly conservative Christians. After a murder, many say, society must be put back in equilibrium. In some way, they say, the death of the offender atones for the death of the victim. It is the Old Testament notion of justice — an eye for an eye.

These are the same people who profess to have had life-changing experiences themselves, and believe that other lives can be changed by a personal relationship with a higher power.

But, when it comes to the death penalty, they seem to forget the entire New Testament. No turning the other cheek. No 70 times seven. Although none is without sin, they are more than willing to cast the first stone.

Society would be better off if all of us would "go out into the world and preach the gospel." We should spend more time in prison ministry attempting to change the lives of Alabama's 14 death-row teens who just received a reprieve, and less time embracing the warped justice of revenge.

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