Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from the Jewish World Review, April 6, 2005, with the headline, “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth?—When the Colorado Supreme Court overturned Robert Harlan’s death sentence last month, it showed once again just how uncomfortable the American legal system is in invoking moral values as a basis for legal decision making.
“Harlan had been convicted of raping and murdering a cocktail waitress in Denver in 1995. Before sending the jury out to determine his fate, the lower court judge instructed each juror to make an individual moral assessment of whether Harlan should pay the ultimate price for his crime or, instead, spend the rest of his life in jail.
“Colorado law is unusual in explicitly asking jurors to evaluate their own moral beliefs when deciding capital cases. Taking the judges instructions seriously, one or more jurors brought a Bible into the jury room and referred to it during deliberations.
“Harlan was sentenced to death. One juror later acknowledged that she had studied Leviticus 24: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” In its 3-2 decision overturning the death sentence, the Colorado Supreme Court found that the verdict was tainted by the aid or distraction of extraneous texts—in this case, the Bible. The court also expressed concern that jurors believed they had consulted a higher authority.”
Tom: Dave, in our last segment, you made an appeal to be logical. To use some reason here. What about this? The court has asked these jurors to search their own moral system for a “moral” assessment, and they decided to go to the Bible. Where else…I mean, there other places you could go, but now, since they went to the Bible, since they went to a higher authority for their morality, this verdict is overturned with regard to the death penalty. Is that reasonable? Is that logical? Is it rational?
Dave: The whole thing is irrational, Tom. I thought we followed the law, you know. What does the law say? Does the law say that murder, the penalty, you know, and it would be aggravated, and so forth, pre-meditated, and all of this, along with this, does the law require the death penalty? Then it should be decided on that basis.
To ask the jurors to each go into their mind and come up with their own moral assessment, I mean, that’s absolutely absurd! I’m sorry! Don’t we have a law? How are we going to go by the law? Now, we’re going to have each juror go and decide on the basis of his own morals.
Tom: Or some higher power.
Dave: Well, whatever. So the thing was wrong from the very beginning. Now, the problem is, how are you going to come up with a moral judgment? You’ve got 12 jurors, you could have 12 different ideas. And who cares? Some of them might say there are absolutely no absolutes. So they don’t believe in right and wrong. Just do your own thing! I mean, you’ve got some hippies on the jury. So, it’s ludicrous.
But now that they deny that morals—the right and wrong—comes from a higher authority, if there’s not a higher authority, okay, guys, then go by the law. But there is a higher authority, and God has written His law in every human conscience. And we all know it’s wrong to commit murder. And we know there ought to be a serious penalty for that. So I find this rather a strange situation here, Tom. Strange case.
Tom: Well, Dave, what about the death penalty? These people went to the Word of God to come to a decision about whether somebody should pay with their life for taking another person’s life. Is this really biblical?
Dave: Well, Tom, they didn’t dream it up on their own. The laws of Colorado must have required a death penalty in this case, so they’re only deciding whether they’ll go along with that or not. But is this biblical? Well, the Bible says so. I mean, you want to look at the ultimate example of the death penalty, it’s Christ!
Tom: We just mentioned it in our first segment.
Dave: Yeah, Christ took our place. He presented Himself to the Father. And in the Garden, He’s sweating “as it were, drops of blood,” and He says, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. If there’s any other way that man can be saved, don’t make me go through with this.”
What does the Father say? (You complain against the death penalty? There it is!) The Father said, “You’re going to have to die.” The whole human race must die. God has already said, “The soul that sinneth, it must die.” God had already said to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “The day you eat thereof, you will die.”
Where did death come from? It’s a penalty of God for sin. It’s that simple. And God requires it. In fact, the Old Testament says that God says to the Israelites, “You must put the murderer to death. If you do not, there will be a curse—my curse will be upon your land, the very soil, the blood that was shed and drained into that soil, the very soil will call out for vengeance.”
You know, Tom, they get very sympathetic for murderers who’ve done such brutal things—murdered many people without any compassion—horrible what they’ve done. And then suddenly, we get very sympathetic: “Oh, but don’t put them to death,” and it’s costing us millions and millions of dollars to keep these guys in their own cell with a TV and so forth. You take the life of someone…the scripture says, “He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. It’s justice.
Tom: And, as you said, Dave, God makes the rules. It began with Adam and Eve. The rule was, “The day you eat thereof, you will surely die.” Divine justice demanded that that penalty needed to be paid.
Dave: Maybe we’d better explain that. They died, morally and spiritually, they were cut off from God and death began to work in their bodies. So they did live quite a few years after that, but the death that they ultimately died, the physical death, was because of their sin. And it was the penalty that God imposed upon them.
Tom: Again, we’re speaking about divine justice here, and we need to take heed to what God says.
Dave: And this is the death penalty just for eating a piece of fruit!