US bishops in appeal for end to execution of minors

 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and 29 other religious organizations have urged the US Supreme Court to affirm a lower court ruling that the execution of persons for crimes committed as juveniles violates the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. The case before the high court, Roper v Simmons, involves a Missouri inmate, Christopher Simmons, who was sentenced to death for a murder committed when he was 17. In August, 2003 the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that a national consensus had developed against the execution of juvenile offenders. The court held that such executions violate the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment, and granted Simmons' request to halt his execution. The amici curiae brief, filed by the USCCB and the other religious bodies July 14, urges the Supreme Court to affirm the judgement of the Missouri Supreme Court. The brief was signed by religious groups, reflecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist traditions. The brief notes that despite differences in theology and moral outlook, the signers share the conviction that the execution of persons for crimes they committed when they were juveniles cannot be morally justified, violates the standards of decency of American society, and violates the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. In a statement concerning the brief, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington and Chairman of the USCCB Domestic Policy Committee, said: "Just two years ago the Court concluded that the execution of persons with mental retardation cannot be squared with the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. It is our hope that the Supreme Court will now extend the same moral wisdom and legal reasoning to the use of the death penalty against those who committed capital crimes as juveniles. "We are pleased that representatives of a broad cross section of religious groups in the United States-reflecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist traditions-have joined in this effort," Cardinal McCarrick said. "It is our shared conviction that because of their age, juveniles lack the psychological maturity and judgement of adults and therefore should not be treated as adults for purposes of capital crimes. Instead of resorting to the most severe and irreversible punishment our courts can impose, we believe society has an obligation always to hold out hope for the reform of those who as youths commit crimes, even the most terrible crimes." "As the Missouri Catholic Conference noted shortly after the Court agreed to hear the present case, 'it is hard to understand that a nation that requires persons to be 18 to be declared a legal adult, to vote, serve in the military, make decisions about their own medical treatment, or even buy a pack of cigarettes can allow adolescents to be treated like adults for the purpose of the death penalty.' "While we will continue to work to oppose any use of the death penalty for what it does to human life and how it diminishes our society, we hope that the Court will, in this case, at least, strike down the use of this ultimate punishment against our children," Cardinal McCarrick stated. "Children are not miniature adults," the brief notes, "and no other area of law treats them as such. Indeed, allowing the death penalty for juveniles permits a radical inconsistency in the law to persist because, in virtually every area of law, a person's youthfulness is taken into account unless the state is contemplating the ultimate question of whether to take his or her life. This anomaly, in which a blind eye is turned to the immaturity of youth when that immaturity is most relevant and its consequences most severe, cannot be reconciled with our nation's evolving moral sense about what is right and just in contemporary America." "This case bears many similarities to Atkins {a case involving persons with mental retardation} because it involves a class of offenders who, because of their age, lack the degree of culpability that would place them in the category this Court has described as 'most deserving' to be put to death," the brief says. "Juveniles lack the psychological maturity and development of adults. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when juveniles do engage in serious crimes, it is almost always attended by mitigating circumstances, such as early and continual exposure to violence and family and social disruption. Society holds great hope for the reform of wayward youth." Each co-signer of the brief submitted a separate statement concerning that faith group's teaching concerning capital punishment and the execution of juvenile offenders. The co-signers of the brief were: Alliance of Baptists; American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists); American Friends Service Committee; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Bruderhof Communities Church International; Buddhist Peace Fellowship; Church Women United; Community of Christ; Engaged Zen Foundation; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, Inc.; General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church; Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church in the United States of America; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Clifton Kirkpatrick, as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Rev. Dwight M. Lundgren, Board of National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA; Mennonite Central Committee, US Washington Office; Muslim Public Affairs Council; Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights (Karamah); National Council of Synagogues; Prison Dharma Network; Progressive Jewish Alliance; Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Union for Reformed Judaism; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Unitarian Universalist Association; United Church of Christ; and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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