Episcopal clergy join interfaith coalition at rally opposing Louisiana’s resumption of executions

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 28, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal clergy joined interfaith leaders from across Louisiana on Feb. 28 for an anti-death penalty rally outside the state Capitol in Baton Rouge at which they voiced specific opposition to pending legislation that would expand the state’s methods of executions.

The rally was organized by Louisiana Interfaith Against Executions, and it featured numerous brief speeches by leaders from a range of faith traditions, including Roman Catholic, Baptist, Jewish and Buddhist. The Rt. Rev. Joe Doss, a former New Jersey bishop who now lives in New Orleans, was one of two Episcopal leaders who spoke.

Bishop Joe Doss

The Rt. Rev. Joe Doss, former New Jersey bishop, speaks Feb. 28 at a rally against the death penalty outside the state Capitol in Baton Rouge. Photo: Louisiana Interfaith Against Executions, via Facebook

“Because our faith tradition calls us to value human life and dignity, justice, compassion, mercy and the common good, we are compelled to speak out and reaffirm our opposition to the death penalty and proclaim our continued and ongoing opposition to House Bill 6,” Doss said.

That bill would bring back executions by electric chair in Louisiana, as well as a newer form of execution known as nitrogen hypoxia, which critics have equated to death by suffocation because it chemically deprives the person’s body of oxygen. This method made headlines in January when Alabama put an inmate to death by nitrogen hypoxia, as an alternative to the more common lethal injection.

Louisiana has nearly 60 people on its death row, though its executions have been paused since 2010 as it and other death penalty states grapple over growing objections to their methods of execution and diminished public support for capital punishment. The states’ search for alternative methods of execution partly reflects the difficulty of carrying out lethal injections at a time when the drugs used are in short supply or unavailable.

At the Feb. 28 rally opposing executions, participants prayed for each of Louisiana’s death row inmates by name along with their victims’ families. The rally was livestreamed on Facebook and can be viewed on demand by video.

“We advocate for systemic solutions to violent crime that address our community’s need for justice, equity and love, not vengeance,” said the Rev. Madge McLain, an Episcopal priest who serves at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Abbeville, about an hour and a half southwest of Baton Rouge.

“At this critical time,” McLain said, “we gather together to pray for life and mercy.”

The Episcopal Church first expressed formal opposition to execution at the 1958 General Convention and has called on Episcopalians to urge their state governments to stop the practice. General Convention reaffirmed its opposition in 1979, 1991, 2000, 2015 and 2018, when it called for all death row prisoners to have their sentences reduced.

The rally in Baton Rouge was scheduled the day before International Death Penalty Abolition Day, which is commemorated March 1. After a news conference and prayer vigil, interfaith leaders met with state lawmakers to press them to reject the pending legislation that seeks to resume executions in the state.

“The majority of religious communities nationwide oppose the death penalty as an affront to our basic religious principles that uphold the sanctity of life,” Alison McCrary, director of Louisiana Interfaith Against Executions, said in a written statement before the rally. “We stand together as a statewide interfaith coalition in opposition to the death penalty and against the cruel and inhumane methods of execution in House Bill 6.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.