Testimony on Death Penalty repeal (SB539)

Pictured: Deacon Steve Kaneb testifies in favor of death penalty repeal on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.

EDIT: Rep. Renny Cushing reports that: “Senate Judiciary votes 3-1 in favor of SB593, bill to repeal NH Death Penalty.”

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard public testimony on SB539, a bill that would repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty. The testimony went on for three hours, including faith leaders like Deacon Steve Kaneb, who read a statement on behalf of Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Libasci. Rev. Gail Avery read testimony written by Episcopal Bishop Rob Hirschfeld.

The repeal of the death penalty is one thing that all member churches of the NH Council of Churches agree on. Because of the length of the testimony, we tried to summarize our opposition in three points based on the Bible:

1. All human life is a gift from God and therefore sacred (Genesis 1:26). The intentional taking of a human life is always wrong.

2. Humans are universally flawed and fallen (Roman 3:10) and any human system of justice will have flaws. When it comes to taking human life, Christians cannot used a flawed system.

3. God alone determines how, if and when a person comes to repentance and redemption. The death penalty puts human knowledge above God and closes of forever the possibility of God bringing someone to redemption.

You can read the full statement, agreed to by our member churches, here.


Today’s testimony:

Dear Members of the Judiciary Committee:

The New Hampshire Council of Churches is an ecumenical Christian body of nine diverse denominations: American Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Society of Friends (Quaker), Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist and Unitarian Universalist. All nine of these denominations unanimously regard the use of capital punishment as problematic and unacceptable.

Our membership, in addition to the membership of the Roman Catholic diocese represents the faith and conscience of about five hundred thousand Granite Staters. To summarize that faith, I’ll offer these points: the sacredness of life, human equality, ending cycles of violence and the core Christian belief in redemption

First, in Genesis 1:26, we read that “God said, ‘Let us make [the human race] in our image, after our likeness.’” Christians believe that every human life is sacred, even when that person denies the dignity of others. We recognize that the sacredness of life is a gift from God, neither earned through good behavior nor lost through terrible acts.

Second, that sacred dignity is found equally in every person since all people have the same divine Creator. Statistics on the death penalty reveal that the United States applies the death penalty unequally as to race, class and other categories. Of course this violates the Constitutional concept of equal protection under the Law. More fundamentally, it violates the equality with which God has imbued the human race in creation.

Third, in Romans 12:17, we read, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Christians recognize that we have the opportunity and the responsibility to end cycles of violence and injustice. The death of Jesus on the Cross, itself an act of capital punishment, should break this cycle and restore our broken society.

Finally, God can redeem any person, no matter their past, and bring them to the forgiveness and mercy of God. The death penalty closes off the possibility of God’s redemption through our presumption that we know better than God.

For these reasons: the sacredness of life, human equality, ending cycles of violence and the core Christian belief in redemption, I urge you all to support Senate Bill 593 and repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty.

With gratitude and hope,

Rev. Jason Wells
Executive Director