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America's Culture War: Capital Punishment

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No Bible for the Jury!

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Yet another instance of the malicious disdain for Christianity possessed by a sizable segment of America’s judiciary was seen in the March 28, 2005 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court. In 1995, a jury convicted Robert Harlan of the kidnapping, rape, and first-degree murder of Rhonda Maloney, as well as the shooting of Jaquie Creazzo, who tried to rescue Maloney when she escaped from Harlan’s car. In pursuit, Harlan shot Creazzo, leaving her paralyzed for life. He then seized Maloney from Creazzo’s car, drove away with her, and proceeded to savagely beat, rape, and ultimately kill her. The jury found Harlan guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, and one count of assault. His sentence? The jury rendered a unanimous death penalty decision. That was 1995.

However, Harlan appealed his case on the grounds that during their deliberations some on the jury—get this—“illegally” consulted the Bible for moral guidance. Now, ten years later, Colorado’s high court agrees, and has ruled that the death sentence must be commuted. Welcome to America’s moral and spiritual twilight zone! Delivering the decision of the Court, Justice Hobbs declared:

The Supreme Court concludes that unauthorized introduction into the jury room of the Bible and its text commanding the death sentence for murder could influence a typical juror to vote for death instead of life imprisonment. Under Colorado law, the death penalty is not required for first-degree murder, and it takes the vote of only one juror to refuse the death sentence when the state is seeking the defendant’s execution (People v. Harlan, 2005, emp. added).

Bringing the Bible into the discussion is a bad influence—especially where a vicious murderer is involved! Go figure. The Court further insisted:

In a community where “Holy Scripture” has factual and legal import for many citizens and the actual text introduced into the deliberations without authorization by the trial court plainly instructs mandatory imposition of the death penalty, contrary to state law, its use in the jury room prior to the penalty phase verdict was prejudicial to Harlan (People...., emp. added).

Observe the admissions by the Court: (1) “Many” citizens in Colorado (surprisingly) still consider the Bible to have “factual and legal import;” (2) the Bible “plainly” teaches that the death penalty is a mandatory feature of law; and (3) the Bible’s teaching regarding the death penalty is “contrary to state law.” Let me get this straight. Though many citizens still accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, and though the Bible plainly teaches that the death penalty is an appropriate measure to take in murder cases, nevertheless, to introduce the Bible into jury deliberations is to violate state law and render the verdict “prejudicial”?!

Such legal/judicial nonsense constitutes moral insanity. If such irrational thinking is typical of the law schools of America of today, and the legal community they have produced, then America is well down the road to national suicide. Though such asininity has been gaining momentum over the last fifty years, it stands in stunning, stark contradiction to America’s judiciary for the first 150 years of our national history. The fact of the matter is that the Bible was recognized as the premiere document and foundation of American jurisprudence, even as it was the initial textbook of the public school system. Did the Founders intend that the Bible and its teaching be incorporated into the criminal justice system that they created? It takes only a handful from the scores of quotations from a cross-section of the Founding Fathers to answer this question.

For example, U.S. Supreme Court justice and “Father of American Jurisprudence,” Joseph Story, insisted: “One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is part of the Common Law.... There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations.... I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society” (1851, 2:8,92, emp. added). John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second president of the United States, wrote in his diary on February 22, 1756: “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited.... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be” (1854, 2:6-7, emp. added). The first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Jay, stated in 1784: “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts” (1980, 2:709, emp. added)—but, according to the Colorado Supreme Court—not while in the jury deliberation room!

Noah Webster insisted: “The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles...and to this we owe our free constitutions of government” (1832, p. 300, emp. added). He also said: “The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal concerns of men” (1833, p. 5, emp. added). Interesting. According to a prominent Founding Father, the Bible is responsible for our civil liberty, for our constitutions of government, for correcting and regulating human behavior, but, alas, it cannot be used in a jury deliberation room. James McHenry, a signer of the federal Constitution and Secretary of War under the first two presidents, wrote:

The Holy Scriptures...can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses (as quoted in Steiner, 1921, p. 14, emp. added).

Such sentiments are commonplace among the Founders and Framers. Never in their wildest dreams did these great architects of American law imagine that judges would one day ban the Bible from its central role in the administration of legal justice. They, in fact, lived at a time when courtroom witnesses were sworn in by placing their hand on the Bible! Every U.S. president from the very beginning has done the same! Can anyone honestly contend that they would ever have dreamed that the day would come when the Bible could not be used to influence a jury’s decision regarding appropriate punishment for lawbreakers? The liberal, activist judges of America ought to be ashamed of themselves and of their unconscionable actions. They ought to be drummed off the bench by a citizenry that is fed-up with their legal shenanigans and judicial hocus-pocus. Whether that ever happens or not is ultimately academic. For the Supreme Ruler of the world is watching. Eventually, He will intercede.

Indeed, American judges would do well to consider the words of King Jehoshaphat to the judges of his day: “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord.... Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God” (2 Chronicles 19:6-7, emp. added). They likewise need to heed the words of Artaxerxes to Ezra:

And you, Ezra...set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people...all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them. Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment (Ezra 7:25-26, emp. added).

It is by God’s permission that judges judge (Proverbs 8:15). “He makes the judges of the earth useless” (Isaiah 40:23). Reflecting on the terrible devastation endured by Jerusalem and the Israelites for their departure from the precepts and judgments of God, Daniel mourned: “And He has confirmed His words, which He spoke against us and against our judges who judged us, by bringing upon us a great disaster; for under the whole heaven such has never been done as what has been done to Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:12, emp. added). America’s turn will be forthcoming.

REFERENCES

Adams, John (1854), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Adams (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company).

Jay, John (1980), John Jay: The Winning of the Peace. Unpublished Papers 1780-1784, ed. Richard Morris (New York: Harper & Row).

People v. Harlan (2005), Colorado Supreme Court, Case No. 03SA173, [On-line], URL: http://www.courts.state.co.us/supct/opinions/2003/03SA173.pdf.

Steiner, Bernard (1921), One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Bible Society).

Story, Joseph (1851), Life and Letters of Joseph Story, ed. William Story (Boston, MA: Charles Little and James Brown).

Webster, Noah (1832), History of the United States (New Haven, CT: Durrie & Peck).

Webster, Noah (1833), The Holy Bible...With Amendments of the Language (New Haven, CT: Durrie & Peck).




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