Abolishing the Death Penalty is a Pro-Life Issue

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Recently, I met Bill Pelke.  In 1985, his grandmother was killed by a teenage girl who with some friends said they wanted to do Bible study with her.  For many years, Bill wanted revenge. If his grandmother died, this young woman should die also.  And she did receive the death penalty. But after several years of soul searching, Bill realized he didn’t want her to die and that his grandmother wouldn’t want her to either.  He worked hard to get her execution changed to life without parole. Now Bill shares his story around the country in an effort to help others see the beauty of a Journey of Hope – From Violence to Healing.

I believe that I am a pro-life person.  Life is precious.  I want children to be born and to have the opportunity to live long and fruitful lives without hatred and prejudice.  But it’s not that simple.  Children are born into dysfunctional families…they grow up with inadequate education and support…they are victims of violence…and if you are a child of color, you are more likely to live in a violent neighborhood, participate in the school to prison pipeline, and be given a death sentence if you commit murder.  We, pro-life people, should be as concerned about a child’s life as we are about his/her birth. That’s one reason why we should abolish the death penalty.

My reasons for wanting to eliminate the death penalty revolve around the need to be consistent about my pro-life beliefs. As Pope Francis said “the life of the unborn must be promoted and defended…At the same time, we must keep in mind that the dignity of every human being is equal and inviolable at every stage throughout his/her life.”

Some differentiate the innocent unborn child with the guilty criminal. But there are innocent people on death row.  Over 164 individuals have be exonerated since 1974.  New methods of determining innocence or guilt continue to be developed.  If we are pro-life, how can we kill innocent adults? We need to be consistent.

Redemption is such an important part of our faith tradition. Jesus gave many sinners the advice to sin no more.  But this can take time.  Mercy is also an integral part of our faith.  Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.  But this also can take time.  Eliminating the death penalty allows both the victim’s family and the perpetrator to change.  This is what Bill Pelke discovered.  It’s the only way closure will occur.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

The Budget is a Moral Document

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Have you ever thought about a budget as a moral document?  According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, the adjective ‘moral’ means conforming to a standard of right behavior or sanctioned by ethical judgement.  So a moral document would be one based on the highest ethical behavior.  And a moral budget would be built on a high moral standard. It would an ethical document.  As Christians, this morality is based on the teachings of Jesus and we know that Jesus had a preferential option for the poor.

You can learn a lot about the priorities of a person, family, city, state, and/or nation by its budget. What is included in the budget and what is left out.  For instance, a family that includes money for a luxury vacation but not enough to pay school tuition, puts pleasure before responsibility.  A company that puts more money in stock dividends and not enough in its pension plan is not concerned about its employees.  A state that budgets enough money for early childhood education recognizes the importance of a child getting started right and that this contributes to a better future for all.   A nation that increases its military budget but cuts funding for housing, food, medical care, and education makes power more important than compassion.

Granted, it is often more complicated than I’ve stated above but still it gives us a good indication about priorities.  As Christians, we would expect that a budget for a state or nation would address the needs of the most marginalized.  This is not a racial issue – in 2017, there were at least 34,596,000 families in the U.S. with two adults and one child who earned lass that $19,730.  42% of them were white, 23% black and 26% Hispanic. It’s not limited to urban areas. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly a quarter of children growing up in rural America were poor in 2016 compared to slightly more than 20 % of children in urban areas.  It’s a human issue. It impacts all of us.

So when the proposed budget for the Federal government slashes Health and Human Services funding by $17.9 B including reductions in maternal and child health and from primary health care programs like free clinics, cuts $214 B out of food assistance over ten years, eliminates $72 B from disability supports and services including those for veterans, we can see a real contempt for the poor.  When we see a $34 B increase for military and $8.6 B for a wall along the southern border, we see an ‘us versus them’ mentality. I see an immoral document. The U.S. is a wealthy country – a great country. But we are only as great as how we treat those who most struggle to survive.

Fact Sheets: President Trump’s FY 2019 Budget Harms Nearly Every Community Across the Country

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/reports/2018/02/16/446837/fact-sheets-president-trumps-fy-2019-budget-harms-nearly-every-community-across-country/

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Why are the Poor Paying for the Tax Cuts?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Why does it seem like this current administration is completely funding its huge tax breaks on the backs of the poor?  Maybe because of all the efforts to reduce the social safety net.  Here are some examples:

  • The administration is considering changing the way the government measures poverty which could result in millions of low-income individuals and families being removed from assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, and Head Start. The current poverty line for a family of four is about $26,000. Each year, the government adjusts for inflation based on the consumer price index (CPI). The administration is considering using a version called“chained CPI” which is lower than regular CPI. Chained CPI assumes that as prices of goods go up, people substitute less expensive items lowering their overall expenses.  Most poor are already using the cheapest good/services they can use.
  • The administration has proposed increasing work requirements or eliminating/reducing state waivers for safety net programs such as SNAP and Medicare/Medicaid.
  • The administration is pushing a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. This question is likely to reduce the number of immigrant – documented or undocumented – responses which will reduce the official number of individuals in that city or state. Since government funds are allocated based on the census numbers, cities with large immigrant populations will receive less funding than they need.
  • This administration has made dismantling the Affordable Care Act a hallmark of it tenure. These actions have eliminated or reduced the healthcare available to many working poor who are not eligible for Medicaid.
  • The current trade war with China is certainly impacting farmers and manufacturers who sell to or buy materials from China.  The next phase will be putting tariffs (taxes) on consumer goods such as clothing, furniture, etc.  These price increases will result in the poor using a larger percentage of wages going for these products.
  • Individuals with disabilities who are often likely to have low incomes will be impacted by the proposed budget that slashes funding of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) by $72 billion. This is only one example of budget cuts that will impact low income families/individuals.

These are only some of the many efforts that are being proposed/implemented to make up the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that were implemented last year. Perhaps instead of catering to the rich, the administration should consider Proverbs 14:31:  Those who oppress the poor revile their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor God.

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Why Boycott Wendy’s?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Now that the weather has gotten warmer and dryer, I’ve been doing some weeding and planting in our garden. The new House of Welcome in Columbus is blessed with a big lot and some wonderful beds for vegetables and flowers. I haven’t gardened in a few years and forgot how back breaking it can be. Muscles that had lain dormant reared their sore selves.   What must it be like to do this type of work hour after hour, day after day?  What would ensure that at least the working conditions and wages were fair?

There is a program call the Fair Food Program (FFP) developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker based human rights organization.  They describe the FFP as “a unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms. It harnesses the power of consumer demand to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations.”

It’s pretty simple. Retail food companies agree to pay $.01 more per pound for tomatoes (or an agreed to amount for other fruits or vegetables). That money goes into a pot to increase the wages of the workers and pay for programs/legal help for any abuses that occur to the workers.  Growers agree to implement the Fair Food Code of Conduct on their farms, to cooperate with monitoring, and pass along the Fair Food Premium to their workers.

There is also a Fair Food Standards Council that monitors the development of a sustainable agricultural industry that advances the human rights of farmworkers, the long-term interests of growers, and the ethical supply chain concerns of retail food companies through the implementation of the Fair Food Program.  It’s really a win-win-win-win for growers, retailers, farmworkers, and consumers.

Sadly, two big companies are missing from the list of participating retail food companies that participate in the program – Kroger and Wendy’s. Neither has agreed to purchase from Fair Food suppliers and/or pay the additional penny per pound for their tomatoes.  This is why many are boycotting Wendy’s and Kroger and letting them know about it by giving a letter to the management of their local outlet.  Giving up your favorite grocery or fast food store might be tough but consider how hard it is to grow and harvest the food we eat. It’s time to let Kroger’s and Wendy’s know that we want farmworkers to be treated with the dignity they deserve.

(Copies of letters you can use for Wendy’s or Kroger’s are in the Justice Updates for May 7, 2019.)

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

“Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills.”

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Catherine of Siena, a great Dominican and promoter of justice extraordinaire. As I reflect upon Catherine during this time of great divide in our world, I am especially mindful of her quote “Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills.” How do we as Dominican sisters and associates of Peace live out this wisdom?  How do we “speak with a million voices” today?  We can follow Catherine’s example and write letters and emails, tweet tweets, and make calls.

What do we need to write about?  We can write against war and violence.  Catherine once wrote to Nicolo Soderini, a leader in Florence plotting against the pope that “It doesn’t seem to me that war is so lovely a thing that we should go running after it when we can prevent it.  But is there anything lovelier than peace?”  With so many conflicts in the world and violence in our communities, don’t we all long for the loveliness of peace?

We can hold our lawmakers – local, state and national – accountable. She scolded King Charles V of France, “Make peace, make peace! Make peace! God will hold you and the others responsible for this at the moment of your death, because of all the foolish apathy of which you have been and are guilty every day.”  Shouldn’t we also scold our Senators for failing to move forward legislation passed in the House?

We can hold our church leaders responsible to be good shepherds.   In a letter to Pope Gregory XI during a time of great scandal in the Church, she writes “I say that this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it.” The current scandal of leadership must be cured.

Catherine is a model for us in so many ways. Let us follow her lead and make our voices heard so that injustice does not grow because of our silence.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog