UUs and the Death Penalty in Arkansas

To Be Determined:

Rev. Jim Parrish

April 12, 2017, UU Fayetteville, AR

Arkansans and the Death Penalty

Our state has put an exclamation point on the death penalty by scheduling 8 men to be executed by the end of April 2017, all so as to “beat the expiration date” of its killing drug cocktail’s shelf life. The story is outlined well in this NPR segment:

Arkansas Readies for 8 Executions… 

“Faced with an expiring supply of a controversial sedative, the state of Arkansas plans to execute eight men over 11 days — a pace that is unprecedented in recent U.S. history and that has been criticized by lawyers and former corrections officials.”

The rush to kill eight men after Easter is unprecedented, and can only pile onto Arkansas’ reputation as a state that is “open for violence” in the wake of pushing guns onto our college and university campuses. When our international businesses recruit people to come work in Arkansas there is already a steep climb to convince them that they and their families will be welcome no matter their ethnicity, religion, political views, or sexuality/gender. Add to this a reputation for multiple executions rushed into because the state wants to kill people before they are prevented to do so, mostly by the rest of the civilized world’s attitude that it is a brutal, dehumanizing act, well, that is a great advertising piece… “Arkansas, the Execution State.” Really?

As Unitarian Universalists we may have differing degrees of view on the death penalty, but because of our Principles we agree on the inherent “worth and dignity” of every human being, no matter how hard they’ve pushed against humanity themselves. We advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty for many reasons, but two to ponder are: there are too many innocents killed by an inherently complex and flawed judicial process, and society has found no reasonable way to kill someone against their will that doesn’t perpetuate the violence the alleged perpetrator has begun. 

Instead of continuing the violence, we advocate for the state to invest in the care and support of the victim’s family, friends, and others affected by the crime, to allow them to rebuild their lives and begin anew. And we advocate for humane life imprisonment without parole for the perpetrator, because there is always a chance for reformation, repentance, and recognition of their own worth and dignity, even as they have given up their freedom because they did not recognize it in another. There is even a chance for exoneration, a chance that is erased upon death. 

In our 1974 UU General Assembly we passed a General Resolution renouncing the Death Penalty. With a resurgence of the practice, a panel offered this reflection at the 2000 General Assembly, stating what someone must accept if a supporter of the act (Yr2000 language).:

If You Support Capital Punishment

By Julie Zimmerman

“In a system run by humans and therefore prone to human error, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that some of the people executed will be innocent. (add prone to “human greed and glory” jnp)

As more and more teenagers are being tried as adults, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that some of the people executed will be children.

Because “knowing right from wrong” disqualifies an offender from using an insanity defense, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that some of the people executed will be mentally ill or mentally retarded.

In a society that clamors for victims’ rights and compassion for the innocent, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that pain and suffering will be inflicted on those who have committed no crime, the family and friends of the offender.

In an age when more and more Americans distrust “the system,” if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that you have granted that system the right to decide which of its citizens deserve to die.

In a nation that prides itself on its criminal justice system, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that it is the poor who are executed and that the race of the victim does more to determine who gets a death sentence than the crime itself.

In a country that seeks to decrease violence on television, on the streets and in the family, if you support capital punishment, you accept the fact that our children will learn that killing is the solution to society’s problems.

In a world that cries out for peace and understanding, if you support capital punishment, you have made a judgement that thousands of incarcerated Americans, (about whom you know only what the media has told you), are no longer human, are no longer children of God, and are incapable of change, reconciliation or redemption, and that the family of the murder victim are incapable of forgiveness.”

Seven years ago, my uncle was murdered. My uncle’s killer is still alive, serving a life sentence. I thank God that the brutal, irrational crime that ended my uncle’s life did not result in another senseless killing.”

(Julie Zimmerman is the editor of Biddle Press, and wrote this as a foreword for Frontiers of Justice, Volume 1, The Death Penalty)


On Wednesday April 12, 2017, a letter from over 200 clergy and people of faith in Arkansas was presented to the Governor and Attorney General of Arkansas asking the state to commute the sentences of the eight men to Life In Prison Without Parole. I participated in this action, and believe it to be upholding our deep UU Principles of recognizing our Inherent Worth and Dignity and serving Justice, as well as my own sense of morality and ethics. I urge UUs and people of good-will to let your voices be known to the Governor and Attorney General asking for the move to commutation and an end to the Death Penalty. The ACLU and other civic and religious organizations will be holding rallies at the capitol and asking for phone-calls, emails, and texts to be sent to our state officials to stop this violence. Join with their voices and let Arkansas know we are a state of humane, rational, and non-violent people who want our state to act that way as well. I believe we should continue this work until the death penalty is abolished from Arkansas, and the U.S.. 

With Hope,

Rev. Jim Parrish



We, the following faith leaders, call on Governor Asa Hutchinson to stop the eight upcoming scheduled executions of Don Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Jack Jones, and Kenneth Williams and commute their sentences to life without parole.   

As faith leaders, we are opposed to the death penalty because we believe that in spite of their actions, they retain the God-given dignity of any human life which must be respected.  Aside from this God-given dignity, there are other reasons for not applying the death penalty.

             *It is not effective as a deterrent to crime.

             *It is applied inconsistently.

             *It has a negative impact even on the family of the victim.

             *Mistakes are made-since 1973, 139 inmates on death row from 26 states have

               been exonerated.

             *Studies in other states have shown that the death penalty is more costly than

               alternative sentences.


(abbreviated list of signatures)

Rev. Maxine Allen

Rev. Kate Alexander

Rev. Paul Atkins

Rev. C. B. Baker


Rev. Jan K. Nielson


Rev. Jim Parrish


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