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Saperstein: "It is clear that the application of the death penalty has, for far too long, been unfair; the racial and class disparities among those sentenced to death as compared to those who receive life imprisonment are stark."
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WASHINGTON, D.C., January 18, 2011 -- In a letter sent today to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, urged the Governor to sign into law a bill passed by the legislature to abolish the state's death penalty. The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Governor Quinn:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews including 41 congregations within Illinois, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis which includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis, I urge you to sign into law SB 3539 - legislation that will repeal the death penalty in Illinois.
We applaud the decision of the Illinois State Legislature to repeal the state's death penalty after a decade-long moratorium. We congratulate those who have worked to make right a system of justice that is inconsistent, arbitrary, and too often falls short of the highest standards of fairness to which our nation aspires.
There have been 20 men exonerated from Illinois' death row after evidence of their innocence emerged, many after serving decades. This is the second highest exoneration rate in the nation. Illinois cannot guarantee that its death penalty system will not make a fatal mistake and take an innocent life, nor can any other state or government. There is also a fiscal cost associated with the practice. Since 2003, the state has spent over $100 million on the Capital Litigation Trust Fund, and this represents only a portion of the costs associated with maintaining the death penalty. These resources would be better spent on funding for victims' services and law enforcement.
We now ask that you sign the bill into law with haste. The Reform Movement has long held that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods to deal with crime. As a Movement, we have consistently spoken out for a just system of justice, ensuring that the application of the law is fair. It is clear that the application of the death penalty has, for far too long, been unfair; the racial and class disparities among those sentenced to death as compared to those who receive life imprisonment are stark. Capital punishment violates both the Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and the moral ideals of our religious tradition.
The suffering of victims of violence and their families is profound, and each of them deserves to know that the perpetrators of such violence are held accountable. Yet we have seen time and again that our capital punishment system, created and imposed by humans, reflects human imperfection.
We urge you to, like the prophet Zechariah, "See that justice is done" by repealing capital punishment in the state of Illinois.
Rabbi David Saperstein