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Let's Talk Human Rights

Take Action Against the Surge in Federal Executions

In July 2020, the Trump administration reinstated the federal death penalty after a de facto moratorium lasting 17 years. The US is among only 56 countries that continue to practice the death penalty, the majority of which are not democratic countries, such as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The use of the death penalty confuses retribution with justice.  

Last year, the US federal government executed 10 individuals, the highest use of the practice in a year since 1896. This extraordinary action at the federal level runs counter to a historic decline in the use of the death penalty by states, including in Ohio where Governor, Mike DeWine on January 9th signed legislation that significantly curtails the use of the death penalty. 

This week another three individuals were scheduled to be executed in an unparalleled rush to carry out long-delayed death penalties before the change in administrations. President-Elect Joe Biden is opposed to capital punishment and has promised to abolish it. Yesterday, new legislation was proposed to end the federal death penalty.   

The death penalty strikes at the fundamental right to life. It is in clear contradiction to Catholic social teaching. “In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II told us that we have an inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. This Catholic campaign brings us together for common action to end the use of the death penalty, to reject a culture of death, and to build a culture of life.”  In September 2020, the leadership of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called on President Trump and then Attorney General Barr, “Enough. Stop these executions.”

The practice of the death penalty in the US violates multiple human rights norms, including binding international laws that the US has signed and ratified. Racial bias and discrimination have proven to play a role in the use of the death penalty - which is more likely to be applied if the victim is white and the perpetrator is black - and has even lead to the death of innocent black men.  

On January 12, 2021, the US federal government had planned to execute the first female since 1954. Lisa Marie Montgomery has been diagnosed with severe mental illness and permanent brain injury related to her history of physical abuse. She was also the victim of heinous systemic sexual and other forms of abuse, including child sex trafficking. These diagnoses and her past trauma were not fully revealed to her jury until after her conviction.

Many countries have called on the US to halt the use of the federal death penalty at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in November 2020. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has explicitly held in the case of Lisa Montgomery that… she “is in a situation of serious and urgent risk of irreparable harm to her rights.” As of this morning, a circuit court judge has granted a stay of her execution to determine her mental competence. This is welcome news, however, two more executions are scheduled to take place later this week.   


Early morning on January 13th, the Trump administration executed Lisa Montgomery despite a series of court orders that briefly blocked her execution. “We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again”, says Kelley Henry, one of Lisa’s lawyers. Lisa’s death is a grim reminder of one of the most egregious aspects of federal executions in the US: that capital punishment harms the most vulnerable and marginalized.

What can you do?

As a community of faith and conscience, we are called to speak out and act. You can get engaged by:

Get involved with the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Sign a petition and write your member of congress: 

  1. Sign the Petition to President Trump
  2. Sign the Petition to Attorney General Rosen 
  3. Sign the petition to the US Congress
  4. Write your Member of Congress

Join a virtual conference: January 10 through 16: “Ending the Death Penalty: A Virtual Conference”

The End of Executions is a week-long, free virtual conference featuring amazing speakers with voices of experience on the death penalty, daily panel discussions, and virtual execution vigils. 

Join a Vigil: 

The Terre Haute vigils will start shortly before any execution appears likely to be taking place. Execution time to be announced - probably between 4-7 pm. Live stream on Facebook

Virtual Prayer Vigils hosted by the Catholic Mobilizing Network will be live-streamed on their Facebook page:

Virtual Vigil for Lisa Montgomery: Tuesday, Jan. 12 | 2-3 p.m. EST

Virtual Vigil for Corey Johnson: Thursday, Jan. 14 | 2-3 p.m. EST

Virtual Vigil for Dustin Higgs: Friday, Jan. 15 | 2-3 p.m. EST

For more information visit: 

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