A broad spectrum of religious leaders from Wisconsin issued a joint statement regarding their views on the death penalty on October 14. The statement follows:

‘Simply put, we cannot support the death penalty’ Posted: Oct. 14, 2006

There are many articulate and compelling arguments for rejecting the death penalty referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot.

We will not rehearse those arguments here. As religious leaders, we wish to present a straightforward, values-based argument. We believe that it is important to go beyond the electoral and political aspects of this issue and focus on the deeper moral, ethical and religious questions raised by capital punishment.

Simply put, we cannot support the death penalty. Some religious traditions believe that capital punishment is simply wrong. Others of us believe that either it is not needed in a modern society or it cannot be applied justly.We are deeply concerned about the possibility that the death penalty might be restored in Wisconsin.

Our state has been without the death penalty for 153 years. We do not believe that reinstating the death penalty will bring healing to our communities nor address the serious concerns we all share regarding violence and its impact on all of us.

As religious leaders, we know that our congregations and clergy see the tremendous pain that the injustice of violence causes in our society.

We know that the grief and hurt can seem unbearable for families who have lost someone to violence.

We are all sickened by the violent behavior that plagues our society, and we mourn with all who have suffered violence or lost someone to violence.

All of us in society are vulnerable to feelings of revenge and retribution when we are angered. We cannot let such feelings, often very personal feelings, dictate public policy.

While we recognize that there is a difference of opinion between thoughtful, faithful people on this topic, we simply do not believe that a death penalty is necessary nor will it prevent violent crime.

We also believe that policy making around issues as significant as the death penalty, even when a proposed referendum is only advisory, should be very deliberate and thorough.

Surely our state legislators have their own views on capital punishment.

We are also all aware of numerous public opinion polls that reveal general support for the death penalty (although this support declines when life without parole is an option, as it is in Wisconsin).

We then must ask why our state Legislature felt it was necessary to place this referendum on the November ballot.

If, as people of faith, we believe that each person is created by God, we cannot sanction an unjust and unfair system of punishment that involves the calculated and deliberate killing of a person who would otherwise be incarcerated and removed from society, no matter how offensive and heinous his or her crime.

We specifically question whether the death penalty can be administered justly since, as human beings, we are incapable of creating any system or structure that is perfect.

We urge people of faith to give serious consideration to this important topic.

In recent years, we have seen our state face very serious social issues. We have also seen a trend toward a less compassionate approach to vexing issues such as poverty and violence.

It is our hope and prayer that this state can find ways to address violence without resorting to the use of violence ourselves.

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 15, 2006).