Humanism and the Death Penalty

As humanists we recognize that we all only get one chance to live, which is why we work so hard to make life better for all human beings, regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. This acknowledgment of the limited time that we each have to exist is the primary reason why the American Humanist Association officially came out in opposition to the death penalty by issuing the Humanist Resolution on Capital Punishment in 2001.

This resolution affirmed several humanist ideas and stated concerns that the AHA has with capital punishment: 1) that every human being has worth and dignity; 2) governments which employ the death penalty suffer diminished ethical standing; 3) innocent persons have been released from death row after their convictions for capital crimes were shown to have been in error; 4) improper and illegal actions by law enforcement officials has provided juries and judges with inaccurate or insufficient evidence which in turn has resulted in erroneous convictions; and 5) execution of any convicted but innocent person is an irreversible act. It is for these reasons that the AHA supports efforts to make capital punishment illegal and legislative and executive initiatives at the Federal and State levels to impose moratoriums on carrying out any existing capital verdicts.

Thankfully, a campaign in California that was created to stop the use of capital punishment is gaining traction, and will now officially be on the state’s November ballot. This initiative, the SAFE California Act, will replace California’s death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder.  This act will ensure that no more innocent Americans are killed for crimes they did not commit and that the practice of executions on behalf of the government will cease. Obviously, this is extremely good news considering that 140 innocent men and women have been freed from death row since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States.

This act, beyond its obvious humanitarian benefits, also makes good fiscal sense in this time of state budget shortfalls. A common misconception held by proponents of the death penalty is that capital punishment is cheaper than life without parole. Besides the fact that such an estimation isn’t necessarily a compelling case for the execution of another human being, it is also just not true. California taxpayers stand to save well over $100 million every year without releasing a single prisoner, in part by closing three state agencies that currently handle expensive and extensive appeals for death penalty cases.

The SAFE California Act would use some of these savings to establish the SAFE California Fund, which would investigate unsolved murder and rape cases.  While some would rather see “ultimate justice” carried out on prisoners, I believe that our limited law enforcement dollars should be used to solve more crimes, to get more criminals off our streets, and to protect our families, and NOT to execute prisoners.

So if you believe in the dignity of all human beings, or if you want to see the state of California save money by stopping barbaric executions, or even if you want to see unsolved rape and murder cases investigated, then please support this act. California residents can do so by voting in favor of the SAFE California Act in November, but every American can do their bit by checking out the SAFE California Campaign and spreading the word to your friends and family. And if you still have doubts about stopping capital punishment, please see what the families of murder victims have to say about capital punishment.