In a groundbreaking move, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) on Friday became the first national association of Evangelical congregations to join the effort to repeal the death penalty.
Speaking at a press conference in Orlando, FL, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of NaLEC, stated, "We are here on this historic moment to announce publicly that we and our partners around the country are taking a public stance against the death penalty; we are calling for the abolition of the death penalty."
Since 1973, 150 people who were found guilty and sentenced to death row were later exonerated, leading NaLEC to argue that the death penalty has not been carried out in a just manner. Additionally, studies have shown that the race of the victim has a profound effect on which crimes receive the death penalty.
"People convicted of murdering a white victim are many times more likely to get sentenced to death than people convicted of killing Latinos or African Americans. In California, Latinos are murdered at twice the rate of white people, yet 11 of the 13 people executed in the state were convicted of killing a white person," Heather Beaudoin, National Advocacy Coordinator of the Equal Justice USA, told the Gospel Herald in an email.
"Nationally, Latinos are murdered at twice the rate of white people, but less than 7% of victims in pending death penalty cases are Latino. A recent study from the University of Nebraska Lincoln shows that Latino defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death by white jurors. In 96% of the states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race of victim or race of defendant discrimination or both."
The members of NaLEC believe that repealing the death penalty is not just a social issue, but more importantly, a Biblical one.
"We are a pro-life organization and we believe the death penalty is an anti-life practice," Rev. Salguero said. "As Christ followers, we are called to work toward justice for all. And as Latinos, we know too well that justice is not always even-handed. The death penalty is plagued by racial and economic disparities and risks executing an innocent person. Human beings are fallible and there is no room for fallibility in matters of life and death."
NaLEC, a group which seeks to "respond to a real need for Latino and Latina Evangelical voices committed to the common good and justice in the public sphere," has focused on a variety of criminal justice issues since their formation. However, the death penalty conversation escalated when Equal Justice USA had the opportunity to speak with them and highlight current problems with the death penalty.
"After prayer, reflection, and dialog with anti-death penalty organizations like Equal Justice USA, we felt compelled to add our voice to this important issue," Rev. Salguero explained.
While there is much more work to be done, the members of NaLEC take comfort in the major strides already taken to repeal the death penalty, and are urging the group's 3,000 member congregations to support them in working towards ending capital punishment across the United States.
"The good news is that people across the ideological spectrum are coming together and calling for an end to the death penalty," Ms. Beaudoin told the Gospel Herald. "In the last few years six states repealed the death penalty. In the last two years Republicans in Montana, Kentucky, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire sponsored bills to repeal in their states. We are hopeful that more faith leaders will join NaLEC and the end of the death penalty is not far away."