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Death penalty serves as deterrent

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I have never in my life agreed with the Rev. Larry Rice, the St. Louis-based advocate for the poor and outspoken liberal on all views under the sun. Rice is a social gadfly who pops in front of the camera at every given opportunity to espouse some view about how society is at fault for all of the woes of the downtrodden. To his credit, Rice takes these stands because of his honest beliefs and not some personal political agenda.

I now find myself agreeing with the social activist. But believe me, Rice wouldn't want my support because, though I agree with him, I do so for an opposite reason.

Rice wants the state of Missouri to televise executions. He took his case to the Court of Appeals recently asking permission to televise executions on a handful of low-power religious television stations he runs in Missouri and Arkansas.

Rice believes that by televising executions, the public would be convinced that capital punishment is wrong and the death penalty would be abolished. I believe that televising executions would convince the public that the few monsters sent to the death chamber were so evil that society had an obligation to end their lives on this earth.

Regardless, the Appeals Court said the state did indeed have the authority to ban cameras in the execution chamber and the issue is apparently over for now. Rice plans no appeal.

I'm constantly amazed that some social activists remain opposed to the death penalty. This topic of debate has circulated on the fringes of social commentary for decades if not longer. Those opposed believe that life in prison with no opportunity for parole is somehow more appropriate for someone who murders their fellow man. I have never understood that reasoning.

The death penalty is such a selective process. Very few murderers actually take that final step for a variety of reasons. Most indeed do spend their remaining years behind bars. But society should have the ability to end the life of someone who has taken the life or lives of others. Without that ultimate threat, the deterrent for murder is diminished.

In truth, televising executions isn't the greatest idea because society would have trouble facing the reality of death. It's not a part of civilized human nature. But given the details of the crime, I am convinced society will continue to support the death penalty. The argument can be made that televising an execution would not lower support for the death penalty. But is that a step society really wants to take? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

In the end, Rice and his followers will march and wave banners and criticize those who carry out the ultimate punishment in our society. But their cause is wrong. And tactics like this court case will not advance their agenda.



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