Staying An Ash Wednesday Execution Wesley Allen Mercer is scheduled to die today by lethal injection in the state of Louisiana. Mercer beat his 6-year old son to death back in 1992 and has been on death row ever since his conviction. Considering Louisiana’s capital punishment laws It is no surprise that he is scheduled… Read more Staying An Ash Wednesday Execution
Wesley Allen Mercer is scheduled to die today by lethal injection in the state of Louisiana. Mercer beat his 6-year old son to death back in 1992 and has been on death row ever since his conviction. Considering Louisiana’s capital punishment laws It is no surprise that he is scheduled to die. What is surprising is that he is Catholic, his Governor (Bobby Jindal) is Catholic, and today is Ash Wednesday, the kick-off to one of the holiest times of the year for Catholics.
The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops has requested that the execution be stayed because it would be “inconsistent with the Lenten call for reconciliation and redemption and an unnecessary tragic irony.” To that request, the Catholic Governor “sees no reason to intervene in the case.”
This is one of those moments where faith in public life is instructive and poignant. Catholics — as most folks know — are “pro-life”, and in this case that means advocating on behalf of a man who is sentenced to die at the hands of the State. The bishops’ request is understandable, it is reasonable, and it is NOT an intrusion of faith into state affairs. Instead, it is a request that the state acknowledge and respect the faith of the man they are about to kill.
It is ironic that Jindal has often talked about the need for faith in public matters. That Jindal is one of the conservative voices asking for morality to be re-inserted into public schools and the political sphere. And yet this request does exactly that and he has “no reason to intervene”. Perhaps he thinks it would be problematic for him — as a Catholic — to intervene on behalf of another Catholic. But that can easily be averted by just staying the execution until tomorrow.
Advocates of a strong church-state separation would be surprised by this lack of action from Jindal, but pleased. But that pleasure is ill-placed. This is not about the State affirming one religion over and against others, it’s about affirming this man’s freedom of religion — a freedom that is NOT taken away because of crime, like the freedom to vote is. How less affirming can the State be than to take this man’s Ash Wednesday away by his own death?