Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court threw out a death sentence in a rape-and-murder case after discovering that jurors copied verses from the Bible while deciding how to sentence the defendant. Agreeing with the defense attorney’s argument that the jurors went beyond the law in administering the sentence, the court observed:
At least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these authoritative passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence.
(Via Moby Lives.)
Among the passages considered were Old Testament verses advancing the old “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” retributive justice scheme.
(Funny how hardcore Evangelicals never seem to notice that Christ himself called this sort of retribution into question, saying, in Matthew 5:38-39, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”)
Colorado Governor Bill Owens argued that the ruling is “demeaning to people of faith and prevents justice from being served.” Never mind that jurors normally are expected to, you know, follow the law and the judge’s instructions rather than their religious convictions, or that, say, a devout Catholic who objected to the state’s death penalty for religious reasons would have been kicked out of the jury pool.
In the weekend’s New York Times Book Review, James Kugel reviewed Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, a work that highlights the Protestant overthrow of historical, scholarly interpretations of the Bible. In Kugel’s words:
Protestant denominations became the leading sponsors of a new movement to read the Bible with unblinkered eyes, rejecting all past traditions about what it meant … and reckoning only with the words of Scripture themselves.
Seems like a democratic approach, right? But somehow recent years have seen a rise in spurious and increasingly reactionary teachings based on plain-language interpretation principles not unlike the original construction approach to the U.S. Constitution advanced by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his ilk.
Other Bible-related links: