A Wyoming lawmaker intends to introduce a bill to repeal capital punishment in the state when the legislative session begins next month.
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said the death penalty does not align with conservative principles.
“I oppose the death penalty because I believe in limited government over life and liberty matters concerning our citizens, fiscal responsibility in how we spend our justice dollars, and because executing our own citizens is immoral and a violation of God's natural law,” he told CNA.
“If we’re taking a person’s life because we believe that it was unjust for that person to take another’s life, then that seems paradoxical. We ought to be consistent with our morals and our principles. Life is either precious or it’s not.”
In 2019, Olsen sponsored Senate Bill 145, which was defeated 18-12. He announced last week the decision to sponsor a similar bill again this year.
The Republican party holds 50 of the 60 seats in Wyoming's House of Representatives, and 27 of the 30 Senate seats.
Wyoming has not executed anyone since 1992.
Olsen is working with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Introduced to Wyoming in 2017, CCATDP states that small government and the death penalty are not compatible.
“Conservatives have a hard time trusting the government to fix pot holes, to deliver the mail, to decide which businesses to support. Conservatives would rather the government stay out of the business of picking winners and losers in corporations,” Olsen said, according to Oil City News.
“They want the government outside of all these areas in their lives. So why then would we concede that the government should be such an integral part of our justice system? It makes absolutely no sense.”
Kylie Taylor, Coordinator of CCATDP in Wyoming, expressed concern that because the justice system has the potential for error, capital punishment puts innocent people at risk of being executed.
“Since 1973 at least one-hundred and sixty-five inmates have been exonerated. That comes to about one in ten inmates on Death Row that are exonerated and that is huge,” she said, according to Oil City News.
“We know that the system isn’t perfect and that one mistake with a life is one too many,” Taylor further added.
Deacon Mike Leman, the Diocese of Cheyenne's legislative liaison, told CNA that “For us as a diocese, it’s been about connecting life issues. One of the things I’ve done recently is researching comments from popes in the past and you realize they’ve been for a number of years calling for repeal on the death penalty.”
“It’s important to highlight and connect the life issues because until we do that it’s really hard to highlight for people our responsibility toward any other marginalized population if we turn right around and say, in certain circumstances, life really isn’t an inalienable right.”
He said the Church has emphasized a need for public safety and the responsibility of the government to defend its citizens from dangerous people. However, through the advancement in technology, this does not require the death penalty.
“Pope John Paul II said back in '99 that through the development of our prison systems and our technology and all of these things, society can protect its citizens.”
He also drew attention to the importance of recognizing the system’s potential for failure and told a story about a man he met who was exonerated from death row.
“I’ve actually met a person who was on death row for 12 years. His father died while he was in prison, his mother, because he was on his last appeal, bought a plot for his grave, and then they found out that the process was completely wrong,” he said.
“When you actually meet someone who has been in that position, it makes you think a little bit more deeply about it.”
The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty, in cases of “absolute necessity,” though with the qualification that the Church considered such situations to be extremely rare.
Both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice of capital punishment in the West.
St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”
And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the catechism's paragraph regarding capital punishment.
Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.
Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”
“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.