President Bush on Thursday said he sees no contradiction between his call to build “a culture of life” and his support for use of the death penalty.
In his State of the Union address in February, Bush said, “Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life.” He specifically opposed the use of human embryos for medical research.
Meeting last week in Washington at the American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention, Bush was asked to discuss his view of capital punishment and how it fits into his vision of a culture of life.
“I have been supportive of the death penalty, both as governor and president,” he said. “And the difference between the case of Terri Schiavo and the case of a convicted killer is the difference between guilt and innocence. And I happen to believe that the death penalty, when properly applied, saves lives of others. And so I’m comfortable with my beliefs that there’s no contradiction between the two.”
The March death of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed under a court order, has mobilized conservative Christians against what President Bush has described as “activist” judges.
Another question was about Congress putting pressure on judges, in part due to the Schiavo case: “What is your thought about the role Congress should play in trying to influence the decisions of judges?”
“I think there are three distinct branches of government, and they ought to act independently and serve as checks and balances,” the president said. “I’m strongly for an independent judiciary.”
“My focus with Congress on judges is that they’re not approving enough of my judges in the United States Senate,” he continued. “And I think my judges ought to get an up or down vote, period. I think they ought to get a hearing, and I think they ought to get to the floor of the Senate, and I think they ought to deserve an up or down vote. But I’m strongly for an independent judiciary.”
Bush also alluded to opposition of his judicial nominees in his State of the Union.
“Because courts must always deliver impartial justice, judges have a duty to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench,” he said. “As president, I have a constitutional responsibility to nominate men and women who understand the role of courts in our democracy, and are well-qualified to serve on the bench–and I have done so. The Constitution also gives the Senate a responsibility: Every judicial nominee deserves an up or down vote.”
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to join prominent Christian conservatives in a nationwide telecast as part of an event dubbed “Justice Sunday,” portraying Democrats as “against people of faith” for filibustering against Bush’s nominees.
“Justice Sunday is the kick-off event for the most important national policy debate of 2005,” said the legislative arm of the Family Research Council, which is co-sponsoring the event with Focus on the Family.
The event is “designed to remind our U.S. Senators that the opportunity of public service must be fully open to people of faith,” according to the FRC Action Web site. “Screening potential nominees to the federal bench on the basis of their religious views and moral convictions violates the American sense of fair play.”
Liberals criticized it as Democrat-bashing and protested “religious manipulation of the filibuster issue.”
The Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy responded by sponsoring a national prayer vigil on April 24 urging citizens of all faith traditions to “protest this unprecedented and intolerant act by a few misguided, extremist elements.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.