February Issue

The University of North Carolina prides itself on tolerance. From study abroad opportunities to the academic diversity requirements, the University seeks to ensure that its students have access to a broad range of ideas and beliefs. Undoubtedly, such exposure expands students’ perspectives and creates multiple learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

Yet one viewpoint is often conspicuously absent from Carolina’s wide array of tolerance: the voice of conservatism. Although the University rarely silences conservatives outright, many of Carolina’s policies, programs, and instructors work in unison to ridicule, diminish, and degrade conservative beliefs.

One recent example of this lack of acceptance can be found in the University’s selection of Sister Helen Prejean’s The Death of Innocents for the Summer Reading Program. Prejean’s book follows the emotional journey of two men whom the author believes were wrongly executed. With each twist and turn, Prejean attacks the practice of putting prisoners to death. Indeed, according to the Daily Tar Heel, at least one committee member expects that, “Students who are for the death penalty will be forced to defend their position.”

Of course, defending one’s beliefs is a hallmark of the learning process, and academic institutions should present alternative positions to foster creative thinking. At the same time, however, the University rarely confronts the convictions of its liberal students. The Summer Reading Program, to take one small example, stands as a glaring testament to the fact that conservatives will be ‘forced to defend their positions,’ while liberal students can find reinforcement for their beliefs within Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed or Michael Sells’s Approaching the Qur’án.

The 2007 selection promises to be no different. While not all conservatives advocate the death penalty, the vast majority of freshman who will come under fire for supporting execution, will hold conservative beliefs. Their experience in the orientation book discussions will be baptism, so to speak, for the necessity of standing up for their views while students at Carolina.

Some will lose their way, but the truth is, regular confrontation only makes most people more certain of their beliefs – more adept at defending what they knows is right. At Carolina, conservative students will learn to polish their arguments and exercise their minds, while liberals, overwhelmingly, will simply be able to regurgitate the beliefs of others.

Perhaps liberals hoping to make the most out of their collegiate experience, therefore, should advocate for a summer reading book that challenges their ideals. As philosopher John Stuart Mill so eloquently put it, “He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.”

4 comments

  1. Well I have not read Sister’s book, but here is some of what a Doctor of her Church wrote on the matter of Capital Punishment.Aquinas wrote:Article 2. Whether it is lawful to kill sinners?Objection 1. It would seem unlawful to kill men who have sinned. For our Lord in the parable (Matthew 13) forbade the uprooting of the cockle which denotes wicked men according to a gloss. Now whatever is forbidden by God is a sin. Therefore it is a sin to kill a sinner. Objection 2. Further, human justice is conformed to Divine justice. Now according to Divine justice sinners are kept back for repentance, according to Ezech. 33:11, “I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Therefore it seems altogether unjust to kill sinners. Objection 3. Further, it is not lawful, for any good end whatever, to do that which is evil in itself, according to Augustine (Contra Mendac. vii) and the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 6). Now to kill a man is evil in itself, since we are bound to have charity towards all men, and “we wish our friends to live and to exist,” according to Ethic. ix, 4. Therefore it is nowise lawful to kill a man who has sinned. On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 22:18): “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live”; and (Psalm 100:8): “In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land.” I answer that, As stated above (1), it is lawful to kill dumb animals, in so far as they are naturally directed to man’s use, as the imperfect is directed to the perfect. Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health of the whole body demands the excision of a member, through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut away. Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Reply to Objection 1. Our Lord commanded them to forbear from uprooting the cockle in order to spare the wheat, i.e. the good. This occurs when the wicked cannot be slain without the good being killed with them, either because the wicked lie hidden among the good, or because they have many followers, so that they cannot be killed without danger to the good, as Augustine says (Contra Parmen. iii, 2). Wherefore our Lord teaches that we should rather allow the wicked to live, and that vengeance is to be delayed until the last judgment, rather than that the good be put to death together with the wicked. When, however, the good incur no danger, but rather are protected and saved by the slaying of the wicked, then the latter may be lawfully put to death. Reply to Objection 2. According to the order of His wisdom, God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas sometimes He allows them time to repent, according as He knows what is expedient for His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers; for it puts to death those who are dangerous to others, while it allows time for repentance to those who sin without grievously harming others. Reply to Objection 3. By sinning man departs from the order of reason, and consequently falls away from the dignity of his manhood, in so far as he is naturally free, and exists for himself, and he falls into the slavish state of the beasts, by being disposed of according as he is useful to others. This is expressed in Ps. 48:21: “Man, when he was in honor, did not understand; he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them,” and Prov. 11:29: “The fool shall serve the wise.” Hence, although it be evil in itself to kill a man so long as he preserve his dignity, yet it may be good to kill a man who has sinned, even as it is to kill a beast. For a bad man is worse than a beast, and is more harmful, as the Philosopher states (Polit. i, 1 and Ethic. vii, 6). Article 3. Whether it is lawful for a private individual to kill a man who has sinned?Objection 1. It would seem lawful for a private individual to kill a man who has sinned. For nothing unlawful is commanded in the Divine law. Yet, on account of the sin of the molten calf, Moses commanded (Exodus 32:27): “Let every man kill his brother, and friend, and neighbor.” Therefore it is lawful for private individuals to kill a sinner. Objection 2. Further, as stated above (2, ad 3), man, on account of sin, is compared to the beasts. Now it is lawful for any private individual to kill a wild beast, especially if it be harmful. Therefore for the same reason, it is lawful for any private individual to kill a man who has sinned. Objection 3. Further, a man, though a private individual, deserves praise for doing what is useful for the common good. Now the slaying of evildoers is useful for the common good, as stated above (2). Therefore it is deserving of praise if even private individuals kill evil-doers. On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i) [Can. Quicumque percutit, caus. xxiii, qu. 8: “A man who, without exercising public authority, kills an evil-doer, shall be judged guilty of murder, and all the more, since he has dared to usurp a power which God has not given him.” I answer that, As stated above (2), it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community’s welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death. Reply to Objection 1. The person by whose authority a thing is done really does the thing as Dionysius declares (Coel. Hier. iii). Hence according to Augustine (De Civ. Dei i, 21), “He slays not who owes his service to one who commands him, even as a sword is merely the instrument to him that wields it.” Wherefore those who, at the Lord’s command, slew their neighbors and friends, would seem not to have done this themselves, but rather He by whose authority they acted thus: just as a soldier slays the foe by the authority of his sovereign, and the executioner slays the robber by the authority of the judge. Reply to Objection 2. A beast is by nature distinct from man, wherefore in the case of a wild beast there is no need for an authority to kill it; whereas, in the case of domestic animals, such authority is required, not for their sake, but on account of the owner’s loss. On the other hand a man who has sinned is not by nature distinct from good men; hence a public authority is requisite in order to condemn him to death for the common good. Reply to Objection 3. It is lawful for any private individual to do anything for the common good, provided it harm nobody: but if it be harmful to some other, it cannot be done, except by virtue of the judgment of the person to whom it pertains to decide what is to be taken from the parts for the welfare of the whole. From The Summa Theologicahttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#2

  2. This is what the Pope John Paul II wrote regarding the Death Penalty in Evangelium Vitae (PJII of course being the head of Sister’s Church until he recently died):”the Church’s Tradition has always consistently taught the absolute and unchanging value of the commandment “You shall not kill”. It is a known fact that in the first centuries, murder was put among the three most serious sins—along with apostasy and adultery—and required a particularly heavy and lengthy public penance before the repentant murderer could be granted forgiveness and readmission to the ecclesial community. 55. This should not cause surprise: to kill a human being, in whom the image of God is present, is a particularly serious sin. Only God is the master of life! Yet from the beginning, faced with the many and often tragic cases which occur in the life of individuals and society, Christian reflection has sought a fuller and deeper understanding of what God’s commandment prohibits and prescribes.43 There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God’s Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one’s own life and the duty not to harm someone else’s life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself. Moreover, “legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State”.44 Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.45 56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”.46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.47 It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”.48 Evangelium Vitaehttp://www.ewtn.com/library/encyc/jp2evang.htm#Chapter%20III

  3. And finally, this is what the current “official” position of Sister’s Church is in regards to the death penalty as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:”2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. 2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT”CCChttp://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

  4. From the looks of her website (http://www.prejean.org/), Sister Prejean is a bit of a sophist when it comes to the Death Penalty. She seems to attempt to turn the death penalty itself into something intrinsically evil by linking it to an act which is indeed an intrinsic evil, that being the act of killing the innocent. Yet no one who is of sound mind and supports the death penalty in any way denies the evil of killing an innocent person (hence why most pro-death penalty people are also anti-abortion). In fact, it is because of that respect and love of innocent life that people support the death penalty. It is the fear that that person who has committed murder once will do it again either inside the prison or out thereby further destroying innocent life.She also attempts to use her religion as justification for her position yet at no point in its 2000 year history has her Church held the death penalty to be intrinsically evil. As stated by Aquinas, PJII, and the CCC, when utilized as a necessity to protect and preserve society at large from greater ills, the state (and only the state) has the authority to utilize capital punishment.

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