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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which for 25 years has been calling for an end to the use of the death penalty, is very encouraged that the Supreme Court has recognized that executing juvenile offenders is indeed cruel and unusual. Almost three years ago, the Court concluded that the execution of persons with mental retardation cannot be reconciled with the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. We are gratified to see the Supreme Court extend the same moral wisdom and legal reasoning to the use of the death penalty against those who committed capital crimes as juveniles. This ruling affirms the position held by a broad cross section of religious denominations, child advocacy groups, and legal and medical organizations.
In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ brief on this case, in which 29 other religious groups joined, we pointed out with our colleagues in the Missouri Catholic Conference that persons under 18 cannot vote, serve in the military, make decisions about their own medical treatment, or even buy a pack of cigarettes, but until now they could be treated like adults for the purpose of the death penalty.
While we continue to work to oppose any use of the death penalty for what it does to human life and how it diminishes our society, we are pleased that the Supreme Court has confirmed that standards of decency have evolved and that the U.S. has joined the rest of the world in outlawing the executions of those who commit capital crimes as juveniles.
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