Editorial – Closer to abolition

Glenn Rutherford
Glenn Rutherford

Could it be? Is it really possible that Kentucky might be ready to join the ranks of forward-thinking states and abolish the death penalty?

Passing such a repeal, taking such a positive and moral step, would still amount to an upset in the Kentucky General Assembly.

But upsets are possible — just ask the New England Patriots — and there appears to be solid and growing momentum in the state legislature to end capital punishment, especially since a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is already on the books.

That growing momentum is bipartisan, too. Imagine that.

As of July 1, 19 states had joined the ranks of those who have repealed the death penalty and four have a moratorium on it while studies and other considerations continue. That number grows to 20 when you include the District of Columbia.

That leaves the number of states still using the death penalty at 30. So capital punishment opponents in the Bluegrass State, though growing in number, are still pushing the boulder up the mountain.

Yet there is cause for optimism.

Father Patrick Delahanty, chair of the board of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, believes the state will take this step “easily within the next two or three (legislative) sessions.”

There is still a great deal of work to be done, he cautions. But he and others doing that work are growing more encouraged daily.

Two bi-partisan bills to abolish the punishment have been filed in the General Assembly this year — House Bill 203 and Senate Bill 41. The proposals seek to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Father Delahanty noted that State Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, Ky., recently told a news reporter that he was open to holding an “informational hearing,” that is a hearing without a vote on the issue.

“That would be progress for us,” the retired priest said, “especially in the senate.”

Such an event would be precedent setting. There has never been a hearing on abolishing the death penalty while the General Assembly was in session.

“So such a hearing would be a big advance for the cause,” said Delahanty, “because it would help generate more interest and discussion about the issue. If we can get a hearing in either the senate or the house, it would be a big step.”

Last October one of the national organizations that, in the past, has staunchly supported capital punishment, announced a change in its position on the issue.

According to The Washington Post, the National Association of Evangelicals “approved a resolution that changes its 1973 resolution that favored the death penalty,” the Post reported.

“While the new resolution, which is now the standing policy of the NAE, does not reverse its earlier position, it acknowledges evangelicals who oppose the death penalty,” the story said.

The Post reported that a growing number of evangelicals are “calling for government resources to be shifted away from the death penalty.”

The economics of capital punishment is an issue that appears to be influencing a number of politicians in Kentucky, too. They have learned that capital punishment is expensive, and they also have growing doubts about allowing government to take human life.

In a time of the year when pro-life gatherings are plentiful and pro-life supporters express their opposition to the taking of life, period, it’s nice to hear that Kentucky government is closer to putting capital punishment on history’s shelf.

Our church teaches us that life is sacred, and Pope Francis has re-affirmed that commitment to life time and time again.

In Kentucky, political leaders are beginning to take that notion to heart.

Record Editor Emeritus

Glenn Rutherford
Written By
Glenn Rutherford
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