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Religious Tolerance logo

The death penalty: executing
people mainly for committing murder.

Part 3 of 3:
Status, public opinion polls, &
changes during 2015 in the U.S.
Status elsewhere in the world.

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This list is continued from the previous essay.

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2015-MAY-27: Nebraska became the 19th state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty, at least temporarily.

The Legislature passed bill SB 268 which banned the death penalty in the state. Governor Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed the bill. He wrote that the bill:

"... opposes the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans who support the death penalty as an important public safety tool. ... Your decision will determine whether the families of victims of ten murderers on Nebraska’s death row will ever receive the justice they deserve which was meted out by a very deliberate and cautious judicial process in each of their cases. Your decision tests the true meaning of representative government." 1

On 2015-MAY-27, the Senate overrode the Governor's veto. Nebraska has 35 Republican, 13 Democrat, and one Independent lawmakers. Their vote was 30 to 19. This was the smallest affirmative vote required to override the Governor's veto. Although about one state per year has abandoned the death in recent years, Nebraska is the first state in four decades which successfully abolished the death penalty while having a majority Republican legislature.

Senator Ernie Chambers (I) had introduced a repeal bill 38 times. He said:

"Whenever anything historic occurs, it's never the doing of one person. I've been pushing for this for 40 years, but all of this time it's never been done. If it could be done by one man, it would have been done a long time ago." 2

Governor Ricketts quickly issued a statement, saying:

"My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue." 2

Nebraska was the 7th state to abolish the death penalty since 2007. However, the repeal was challenged four months later. A petition drive by supporters of the death penalty succeeded in obtaining 143,000 verified signatures on a petition to force a statewide referendum on election day in 2016-NOV. The drive was partly supported by Governor Ricketts who donated $200,000 to the group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

A second group, Nebraska Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, plans to oppose the petition until the referendum is held. Coordinator Matt Malay said:

"There certainly is a little bit of ambiguity right now. But in reality, it’s not affecting very much at all. We haven’t executed anyone in 20 years and don’t have the drugs for it. Nobody’s going to be executed in Nebraska anytime soon."

Chris Peterson, a spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, said that the group planned to:

"... defend the successful petition drive from frivolous litigation by our desperate opponents, and work to ensure that Nebraska voters have their voice heard on this important criminal justice issue." 2

The last execution in Nebraska occurred in 1997. Sodium thiopental, the drug used to kill inmates by lethal injection, is no longer manufactured in the U.S. It cannot be legally imported because of a Food and Drug Administration regulation.

The repeal of Bill SB 268 is now suspended and the death penalty is still in force. The long-term fate of the inmates on Nebraska's death row now depends upon the outcome of the referendum.

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News sources that provide in-depth information on the death penalty:

  • Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) has an extensive web site that discusses the death penalty in the U.S. You can subscribe to their free newsletter by Emailing a request to: update@deathpenaltyinfo.org

  • Anti-death penalty logo The Anti Death Penalty web site maintains a list of upcoming U.S. scheduled executions at: http://www.antideathpenalty.org/ They also have many essays on related topics, book lists, statistics, history, quotes, etc. They also maintain a list of other web sites opposed to the death penalty at: http://www.antideathpenalty.org/

  • Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) has a free monthly "Death Penalty and the Right to Life" newsletter covering news from around the world. You can sign up in a box near the top of the page at: http://www.ipsnews.net

  • The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization. See: http://www.innocenceproject.org/ They have two main functions: to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. As of early 2016, they have exonerated 337 inmates and identified 140 real perpetrators. They report that:

    "Twenty people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 12 states and served a combined 289 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit." 3

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2015: The status of the death penalty elsewhere in the world at year end:

In 2012, Latvia became the latest country in the world to abolish the death penalty. This makes a total of 140 countries worldwide that have abandoned executions by the end of 2015.

35 countries still have laws on their books that permit the death penalty, but have not executed anybody for ten or more years.

Another 7 countries only permit the death penalty for exceptional crimes.

Another 60 countries still execute people for various "crimes," primarily murder:

  • Some predominately Muslim countries sentence former Muslims to be executed if they commit Irtidad (apostasy) by voluntarily converting from Islam to another religion or by leaving Islam to become non-religious. 4 Although verse Q.2:256 in the Qurán has been translated:

    "Let there be no compulsion in religion," 5

this passage has generally been interpreted as condemning the forcing a person to convert from another religion to Islam.

  • Thirteen countries execute people who are Atheists: They are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. All of these counries are predominately Mulsim. 7

The above two grounds for the death penalty would appear to be violations of Article 18 of the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" which states:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

  3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

  4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

Finally, at least seven countries still invoke the death penalty for persons convicted of same-gender sexual behavior

They are Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen. 8 Again, all are predominately Mulsim countries except for Nigeria. The northern part of that country is predominately Muslim; the sourthern part is mainly Christian.

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Possible future abolition of the death penalty in other states in the U.S.:

Legislatures in three northern states are actively considering the abolishment of the death penalty: Delaware, Montana, and New Hampshire.

Many other states have no active abolition activity in their legislatures, but have not executed any inmates on death row in more than a decade: Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center has said:

"When you look at most repeals, they were ... in states in which the death penalty had fallen into disuse. Nebraska followed in the pattern of states in which the death penalty had been functionally discarded in practice." 6

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Governor Ricketts, "Veto of LB 268, Nebraska Governor's web site, 2015-MAY-26, at: "https://governor.nebraska.gov/
  2. Julie Bosman, "Nebraska to Vote on Abolishing Death Penalty After Petition Drive Succeeds," New York Times, 2015-OCT-16, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  3. "The Innocent and the Death penalty," The Innocence Project, 2014, at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/
  4. Declan O'Sullivan (2001), "The Interpretation of Qur'anic Text to Promote or Negate the Death Penalty for Apostates and Blasphemers," Journal of Qur'anic Studies, 2001, Vol. 3, No. 2, Pages 63 to 93.
  5. "Al-Baqara 256," Wikilpedia as on 2016-JAN-15, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. Josh Sanburn, "Which State Will Be Next to Abolish the Death Penalty?" Time Magazine, 2015-MAY-28, at: http://time.com/
  7. "Discrimination against atheists," Wikipedia, as on 2016-JAN-18, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  8. "Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death," The Washington Post, 2014-DEC-24. See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2016=JAN-15
Last updated: 2016-JAN-19
Author: B.A. Robinson
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