Diverse gathering of faith leaders calls for the end of Montana’s death penalty

Religious leaders ask Montana legislators to support Senate Bill 185

Religious leaders from all over Montana gather for press conference in the Rotunda.

March 2, 2011

HELENA – Religious leaders gathered today released a letter urging the members of the Montana legislature to support Senate Bill 185, a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. Under the proposed measure, a prisoner would not be eligible for parole and would never be released from prison.

The letter is signed by more than 220 faith leaders representing communities across the state, from Dillon to Glasgow, Lodge Grass to Eureka. Signers come from a broad range of denominations and faith traditions, including Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist, Assemblies of God, American Baptist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Judaism, Hinduism, Evangelical Covenant Church, Society of Friends, Disciples of Christ, Christian Reformed Church, and Unitarian Universalist.

“We are here today to support Senate Bill 185 because there are better remedies to crime than the death penalty,” said Reverend Su DeBree, District Superintendent for the United Methodist Church. “Those of us who signed this letter represent collectively several hundred thousand Montanans and we are giving voice to these peoples’ concerns with the death penalty.”

The letter states that the death penalty is consistently proven to be ineffective, unfair, and inaccurate. The death penalty can also make fatal mistakes. There have been 138 people freed from death row in the United States after being proven innocent. The letter also expressed concerns about the way the death penalty fails murder victim’s families, stating that the death penalty prolongs victims’ pain and delays healing.

“We oppose the death penalty because it fails in every instance to do what it is supposed to do,” said Pastor Matt Randles, Evangelical Covenant Church. “It doesn’t bring closure—instead it subjects families of victims to appeals that go on and on. Worse yet, there is no way to ensure that people won’t be wrongly convicted and wrongly executed. The death penalty is just something we cannot afford.”

Clergy members also voiced unease about the way the state’s death penalty diverts funds from other needs. The letter states that the valuable monetary resources that are expended to carry out death sentences would be better spent investing in programs that help prevent crime; such as improving education, providing better mental health services, and increasing the number of law enforcement officers.

Senate Bill 185 recently passed the Montana State Senate with a bipartisan vote of 26 to 24. The bill is scheduled for hearing in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 15th.