George Lucas

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas

Local religious leaders on Wednesday called for repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska, saying it destroys the sanctity of human life and is aimed at retribution.

“Public safety can be assured through other means,’’ Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said during a news conference. “And justice requires punishment, but does not require that those who have committed capital crimes be put to death.”

Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty sponsored the news conference at the Omaha Press Club downtown.

Speakers emphasized the sacredness of human life and power of redemption.

“Jesus Christ did not lead a life of retribution,” said the Rev. Brian Maas, bishop of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “I hope we will choose to value life and end the death penalty in Nebraska.”

The Very Rev. Craig Loya, dean at Trinity Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, said taking life “under any circumstance is tragic.”

Other religious leaders speaking included Dr. Dan Flanagan, Missouri River District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Robert Keefer of the Missouri River Valley Presbytery.

Last month, by a 30-13 majority, Nebraska state senators voted to advance Legislative Bill 268, which would replace lethal injection with life in prison. For an issue that once divided reliably along partisan lines, a proposal to repeal capital punishment this time got 17 Republican votes.

Now partisans on each side of the issue are preparing for a tough second round of debate, possibly beginning Friday.

The most prominent death-penalty defender to emerge since the vote has been Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has said he would veto the legislation. The 30 votes the bill received in the first round match the number that would be needed to override a veto.

In a recent interview on the death penalty, Ricketts targeted arguments that have helped sway some conservatives to the side of repeal.

The governor said the death penalty is not significantly more expensive than life in prison in Nebraska, despite what studies have shown in other states. He said it costs about $50,000 a year to house an inmate, regardless of the sentence.

During floor debate, several senators said they’ve come to oppose capital punishment because of their religious objections. The governor, who is Catholic, said he has concluded it’s morally consistent to be against abortion and in favor of capital punishment.

He has said, “We need to recognize there’s a difference between innocent life and people who committed these heinous crimes.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1122, michael.oconnor@owh.com

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