American Death Penalty Is Like Sharia

By Daily Editorials

March 29, 2019 5 min read

During an opening monologue on her show "Justice with Judge Jeanine," Fox News host Jeanine Pirro suggested that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's hijab might be "indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution."

She's invited criticism and even an unofficial suspension for being Islamophobic, but Pirro's right — not about what a hijab means or about Omar herself but about the fact that parts of Sharia do oppose some basic tenets of our government.

Our Constitution, in its First Amendment, codifies freedom of speech. Under Sharia, speech is curtailed. The Establishment Clause of that amendment says that the country will not establish a national religion. Sharia requires people to believe in Islam.

There are various other differences and similarities between the two systems of laws, but there's one very specific place where Sharia and the U.S. Constitution converge: We both authorize capital punishment. The American death penalty brings us closer to Sharia than anything else we do.

Where American law is supposed to diverge from Islamic law — the reason for capital punishment — is actually where we are much more alike than we admit.

Americans would like to think that we authorize the death penalty for what someone does, whereas Sharia sometimes seeks the death penalty for what people are. For example, certain Islamic nations will kill a person for being homosexual, a characteristic that many say isn't a choice.

But we kill people for who they are, too — for personal characteristics that aren't their choice. Because the death penalty has been proven time and again to be dispensed in disproportionate ways, we execute people simply because they're racial minorities.

Keith Tharpe was convicted of a murder in 1990 in Georgia and sentenced to death. Years after Tharpe's conviction, one of the hanging jurors, a white man named Barney Gattie, revealed an unjustifiable bias toward black people, wondering "if black people even have souls."

For nearly 30 years, not one court examined racial animus' role in Tharpe's death sentence. When it was finally reviewed, it really kind of wasn't. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Tharpe's racial bias claim hadn't made "a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right."

On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Tharpe's latest chance at justice. Justice Sonia Sotomayor admitted that there were troubling racial problems with Tharpe's case that had never been reviewed but went along with the decision to decline hearing it on procedural grounds anyway. Sotomayor has chosen to allow that deadly penalty that was likely imposed just because Tharpe was black.

The 2018 Gallup crime poll found a 56 percent support for the death penalty. In a 2015 YouGov poll, 55 percent of respondents harbored an unfavorable opinion of Islam. Experience tells me that these two separate study samples probably overlap a lot.

But they shouldn't. As long as we maintain a capital punishment system that targets people of color at disproportionate rates, we're no better than the Islamic law adherents we sneer at and call barbarians.

We think we're getting better in the United States about executions. Twenty states have abolished or overturned it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The New Hampshire House of Representatives repealed the death penalty in a veto-proof move.

But a majority of jurisdictions keep it on their books. This month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a complete moratorium on this systematic brutality. The San Quentin State Prison death chamber has already been broken up like modular furniture from Ikea, but California's death penalty statute is still valid.

Because it's reserved only for the most heinous crimes, the death penalty is an expression of virtue and what actions a society condemns the most. If we think the human values in Islamic law are anathema to ours, then we shouldn't imitate anything its followers do — especially taking a person's life under the guise of moral authority.

If this country's going to be Islamophobic, then we should at least be consistent about it and accept that the death penalty we embrace, especially how it's carried out in the 21st century, is as antithetical to the U.S. Constitution as anything else we fear.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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