Taking someone's life is a moral dilemma as old as time. Weighing the issue can quickly become like opening Pandora's Box: Is it okay to kill another human being? And if it is, when is it okay, and under what circumstances? Who decides what is okay and what isn't? … And the list goes on.

Note: An in-depth look at how opposing sides view the complex issue of Oklahoma's death penalty, as voters prepare to decide State Question 776 –– on the ballot Nov. 8.

Taking someone's life is a moral dilemma as old as time. Weighing the issue can quickly become like opening Pandora's Box: Is it okay to kill another human being? And if it is, when is it okay, and under what circumstances? Who decides what is okay and what isn't? … And the list goes on.

The controversy is clear –– and the answers may not come easy –– but the state will have to address the topic soon.

In just a matter of weeks, Oklahoma voters are going to have to choose one side of the fence as they consider the hot-button issue in November.

If passed, State Question 776 would add a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution. It states that all death penalty statutes are in effect and that methods of execution can be changed. It also states that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment.

The real struggle for much of society, some believe, lies within one's perception of why the practice actually exists: is the use of the death penalty for vengeance or discipline?

State Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-District 24, the amendment's chief sponsor, said the measure is designed to preserve capital punishment for the worst criminals, according to ballotpedia.org.

Sykes said, “We have an obligation to the people of Oklahoma to ensure that we can effectively enforce the death penalty. Oklahomans strongly support the death penalty, and it is critical that we protect our ability to enforce it.”

But, some argue the death penalty itself is 'infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.'

Dr. Matthew Arbo, Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) assistant professor of biblical and theological studies, opposes the death penalty on the grounds that it is vengeance-based and degrading.

“We have a tremendous capacity to lock away criminals,” he said. “That is a luxury people during the Old Testament days didn't have.”

From the pro death-penalty perspective, Dr. Galen Jones, OBU assistant professor of church planting and Floyd K. Clark chair of Christian leadership, said he supports the practice as a just form of discipline.

Following through with the consequences of one's wrongdoing is necessary, he said.

“The question of capital punishment has long been divisive within the Christian Church,” Dr. Tawa Anderson, OBU assistant professor of philosophy, said. “Some Christian philosophers and theologians support the death penalty, arguing that it is commanded in the Old Testament law and tacitly approved in New Testament passages like Romans 13:1-5. Others argue that the Old Testament approval of the death penalty is overridden by the New Testament fulfillment of the law in Christ and commands given to Christians to eschew violence in favor of divine justice and mercy.”

On one hand, Anderson said, some Christians point to the depths of evil and suffering caused by capital crimes, and insist that the only satisfactory and fitting expression of justice is the death penalty.

“On the other hand, other Christians insist that the need to provide second chances, even to capital criminals, combined with past evidence of wrongful convictions and executions, demonstrate that it is time to do away with the death penalty,” he said.

California and Nebraska also have death penalty measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.

As of August, the death penalty is legal in 30 states, and illegal in 20, according to Deathpenaltyinfo.org.

Background

A simple majority vote was required in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature in order to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. On March 9, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the measure, known in the legislature as Senate Joint Resolution 31 (SJR 31), with 80 members voting in favor and 10 voting in opposition. The Oklahoma Senate approved the measure on April 9, 2015, with 44 representatives in favor and none against. It was filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State on April 13, 2015.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.