Pro-Life Christians Protest Death Penalty at Supreme Court

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Forty years after the first execution of Gary Gilmore under contemporary laws, 18 pro-life people of faith were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday — including Sojourners colleagues Lisa Sharon Harper and Peter Armstrong.

The group unfurled a 30-foot-long banner that read “STOP EXECUTIONS!” on the steps of the Court.  On the sidewalk, a crowd of over 80 supporters observed the action, carrying 40 posters (1 for each year) with the names of the other 1442 men and women executed since 1977.

They also carried roses in two colors, a reminder that they are remembering both families of the murdered and families of the executed as they stand together saying, as one banner did, “We Remember the Victims, But Not With More Killing.”

The group included several murder victim family members, a death row exoneree, family members of the incarcerated, pastors and religious leaders, and national leaders in the death penalty abolition movement. It was the largest act of civil disobedience against the death penalty in modern history.

Shane Claiborne, influential Christian author and activist, speaking of the significance of religious leaders, said this:  “Sadly, the death penalty has succeeded in America not in spite of Christians but because of us.  Over 80% of executions in the past 40 years have been in the Bible Belt.  As a Christian, that is especially troubling because one of the tenants of our faith is this: No one is beyond redemption.  Much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance. Moses. David. Paul.  The Bible would be much shorter without grace.  So it was a beautiful thing to stand alongside my fellow clergy and faith leaders…  And, if you go to jail, it’s good to have a nun and a priest next to you.  As we look at history, we are reminded that we’ve got good company among the holy troublemakers who have gone to jail for justice.  Abortion is not the only pro-life issue.”

Those arrested were Peter Armstrong (Sojourners, Washington, DC), Leroy Barber (Portland, OR), Abraham J. Bonowitz (Columbus, OH), SueZann Bosler (Miami, FL), Shawn Casselberry (Chicago, IL), Shane Claiborne (Philadelphia, PA), John Dear (Santa Fe, NM), Randy Gardner (Taylorsville, UT), Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners, Washington, DC), Derrick Jamison (Cincinnati, OH), Art Laffin (Washington, DC), Scott Langley (Ghent, NY), Michael McBride (Oakland, CA), Tom Muther (Topeka, KS), Doug Pagitt (Minneapolis, MN), Jack Payden-Travers (Lynchburg, VA), Sam R. Sheppard (Oakland, CA), and Kelton Tupper (Cheverly, MD).

Those arrested spent 30 grueling hours in D.C. lock-up with the Supreme Court police, D.C. Dept. of Corrections Central Cell Block, and in the holding cells of D.C. Superior Court. They were arraigned on Wednesday afternoon arraigned in chains before Judge Staples in D.C. Superior Court. They were charged with “parading” and given a “stay away order” from the grounds of the Supreme Court. A status hearing was set for Feb. 24.

Since 1977, there have been 1442 more state-sponsored executions. Nearly 3,000 prisoners are currently on death rows in 31 states.

30 January: 64th Anniversary of Gandhi’s Assassination

Today marks the 64th year since Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated.

In India, this day is known as Martyr’s Day and the entire country observes two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. to remember when the prophet of nonviolence and Indian liberation “stopped three bullets.” (There’s an interesting commentary by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in The AsianCorrespondent).

If you haven’t already, please read the just-released book Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by Jim Douglass. It details the little-known history of who killed Gandhi, why, and how the repercussions continue to influence nuclear policy between Pakistan and India today.

Thanks to friend Art Laffin who sent this lovely reflection for the day:

Today is the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. At our weekly Dorothy Day Catholic Worker sponsored Pentagon vigil this morning, I prayed in gratitude for Gandhi’s life–for all he did to show the world the transforming power of nonviolence and the use of nonviolent resistance as a means to bring about revolutionary change. Gandhi is best known for espousing the nonviolent philosophy of “ahimsa” (Sanskrit term meaning “nonviolence” or “non-injury” — literally: the avoidance of himsa: violence) and “satyagraha” (literally translated “insistence on the truth”), and for leading a civil disobedience campaign which ended British rule of India.

Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence and resistance was deeply influenced by Jesus as evidenced by his belief that: “Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. This was nonviolence par excellence.”

As one of the most influential figures in modern social and political activism, Gandhi considered the following traits (seven deadly sins) to be the most spiritually perilous to humanity:

  • Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Science without Humanity
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Politics without Principle
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Worship without Sacrifice

Living in a society and world where violence and killing have tragically become the norm, where the U.S. is the world’s preeminent nuclear superpower, the following quotes from Gandhi point the way to creating a culture of nonviolence. “The first condition of nonviolence is justice all round in every department of life.”

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of (hu)mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the human heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”

“Nonviolence is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy…Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for (hu)mankind.”

“If there were no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. The priciple of nonviolence necessitates complete abstention from exploitation in any form…Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another.”

“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

Mohandas Gandhi, prophet of nonviolence, pray for us!--Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington D.C.

‘My Kinda Christian’: Catholic Worker Art Laffin

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I’ve had the honor of knowing Catholic Worker Art Laffin at Dorothy Day House in D.C. for more than 20 years. We’ve worshiped together, sung together, been arrested together, eaten together, and cried together. All the things that Christians do. Lest I ever forget the amazing people of faith who surround me, here is the note that Art sent out today:

Eleven years ago today, my brother Paul was killed by Dennis Soutar. I still can’t believe what happened. Although eleven years has passed, all who know and loved Paul still feel a sorrow and grief that defies words. We can take consolation in knowing that Paul is home with God and is interceding for us, together with the cloud of witnesses and all our beloved departed. We give thanks for Paul’s life of extraordinary service to the poor, and for all the laughter and love he gave us. Paul, you will always have a special place in my/our hearts!

Let us also pray today for healing for Dennis Soutar. I pray that Dennis will experience God’s forgiving love. I also pray for Dennis’ sister-in-law, Vernetta Soutar, and the rest of the Soutar family. Mom and I met and prayed with Vernetta several weeks after Paul’s death at St. Francis Hospital where she worked. We also prayed with Vernetta, Dennis’ brother and their children at a Mass at St. Michael’s church where they are parishioners.

Finally, let us hold each other in prayer and heart on this special anniversary day. I want to thank each of you from the bottom of my heart for the prayers and loving support you have offered me and my family in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy. I am forever grateful to you.  With love and gratitude, Art

This is what being a Christian looks like. It’s hard. It’s glorious.

Witness Against Torture: A Different Orange Revolution

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Witness Against Torture, along with a number of other groups and individuals, launched a months of public demonstrations calling for the swift closing of the U.S. Guantanamo prison camp. Above, friend and Catholic Worker, Art Laffin stands in front of the White House. The orange jump suits are similar to what is worn by prisoners held at Guantanamo.

guantanamoOne of the speakers at yesterday’s opening event was Mohammed Sulaymon Barre. Barre was released from Guantanamo on December 20, 2009, and returned to his family in Somaliland. Mr. Barre had fled Somalia during the civil war in the early 1990s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Mr. Barre refugee status in Pakistan where he lived and worked freely for many years prior to his detention. In November 2001, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities came to Mr. Barre’s house in the middle of the night and arrested him. He is believed to have been sold to the United States for bounty at a time when the United States was offering sizable sums for the handover of purported enemies. Once in the custody of U.S. forces, Mr. Barre was sent to the U.S. military base at Bagram, where U.S. guards abused him and coercively interrogated him before transferring him to Guantánamo. He was never charged with any crime.

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre made this statement this morning:

“I say to the torturers of Guantanamo, their leaders, and the politicians and people of power who back them in Washington: is it not time that you should awaken from your slumber? Is it not time that you should realize what you are doing and acknowledge the mistakes you have made? Time has passed, and time passes quickly. Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly.

“Closing this place should not mean just the transfer of these men to other prisons. That would only make things worse. Closing it should mean the release of these men and transferring them to where they can be safe.

“And that is not enough. There should be an appropriate and reasonable apology. “To those who say that they fear that those men, when released, would join enemy groups and therefore we should keep them in prison indefinitely, I say: don’t you know that keeping these detainees in prison is the very thing that feeds the animus against the United States? I say to those who believe in these notions: the thing you fear is the very thing you cause by your wrongful actions. This is what constitutes the real threat to the national security of the United States, not the closing of the prison and the release of detainees.  Peace be upon you.–Mohammed Sulaymon

Follow and support the Witness Against Torture events here.