Methodist clergy plan protest of Tennessee’s use of electric chair
By Katherine Fretland
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
May 27–A group of Methodist clergy plan to demonstrate against the death penalty Tuesday in Nashville. The group plans to pray at 11 a.m. at the Legislative Plaza.
“We are a group of Methodist clergy that are going to the legislative building to pray and to demonstrate against the bringing back of the electric chair,” said Birgitte French, pastor of CrossRoads UMC in Collierville. “We as Methodists are against capital punishment. As a Christian it’s a moral issue for me as well. Jesus said we are to love with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. I believe that we are people that believe in the resurrection and restoration and in forgiveness. That’s why I’m here.”
The Tennessee and Memphis Conferences of the United Methodist Church has started a petition on Change.org asking Gov. Bill Haslam to reconsider his support for the use of the electric chair. Haslam signed into law a bill that allows the electric chair to be used for executions in Tennessee if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. It passed the state Senate 23-3 and the House 68-13 in April.
A Vanderbilt University poll released Wednesday showed 56 percent of Tennesseans surveyed support using the electric chair for state executions. Thirty-seven percent said they oppose the electric chair.
Oklahoma Sen. Mark Norris, who voted in favor of the bill, said he supports using the electric chair as an appropriate alternative.
“I found it strange if not troubling a year ago that there were difficulties obtaining the chemicals necessary,” he said.
Bill McAlilly, bishop of the conference, wrote a letter to Haslam saying, “While we strongly believe in justice and accountability for those that commit all crimes, particularly those crimes that end the lives of other human beings, capital punishment limits the opportunities for God to transform the convicted person and the victim’s family through the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
In 2008, Nebraska’s Supreme Court ruled the electric chair was unconstitutional.
“The evidence here shows that electrocution inflicts intense pain and agonizing suffering,” the court decided.
French said a Facebook conversation began Friday among Methodists and clergy.
We “decided we would get together and show our governor that we are against this,” French said. “I think the electric chair is probably the most inhumane and cruel way therefore I am totally against that.”
Eight states in the United States allow electrocution, including Oklahoma which has no working electric chair. Tennessee is the only state that has now allowed the electric chair as an option when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. Other states have allowed it by the inmates’ choice or have passed legislation to allow it if lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional. There have been 158 electrocutions since the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)