Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Atlanta’s bishops join interfaith effort for death penalty reform

By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published October 10, 2023  | En Español

ATLANTA—Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and Atlanta’s auxiliary bishops are joining other interfaith leaders to ask Georgia lawmakers to change the standard of proof for those with intellectual disabilities in capital cases.

Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) and the Faith Leaders of Color Coalition (FLOCC) hosted a noon prayer service on the steps of the State Capitol Oct. 10 for World Day Against the Death Penalty. The event featured remarks and prayers from faith leaders in the state, including Archbishop Hartmayer.

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., third from left, offered a prayer at the World Day Against the Death Penalty vigil at the Georgia Capitol Oct. 10. Joining him, from left, were Deacon Erik Wilkinson, Cullen Larson, Frank Mulcahy of the Georgia Catholic Conference, Maggie Rousseau of the Disabilities Ministry of the archdiocese and Jayna Hoffacker, director of the archdiocese’s Restorative Justice Ministry.

The archbishop and bishops, along with other faith leaders, signed a letter appealing to lawmakers to address the issue in the 2024 legislative session. The letter text follows:

“October 10, 2023–21st Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty

To: Georgia General Assembly

We, as faith leaders from every corner of the state of Georgia, come together to bring to your attention an injustice occurring in our state and urge you to take action to stop it.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing those with intellectual disabilities was a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The court left it up to individual states to develop standards for determining intellectual disability. Sadly, Georgia stands alone among all the states in requiring the highest standard of proof–beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, individuals with intellectual disabilities have been executed, and are at risk of being executed again.

Although our sacred texts and traditions differ, all our faith traditions call us to protect the dignity of all people, especially the most vulnerable among us. We cannot stand by while our state laws, though designed to protect people with intellectual disabilities, ensure that they have no chance of proving their disability in a court of law. Therefore, we urge you to support legislation that would change this standard of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “preponderance of the evidence.” Only through this change in the standard of proof can we prevent the wrongful execution of a person with an intellectual disability from occurring.

This issue has come before our state legislature many times before. Let this be the year that we say no more to this injustice and pass legislation that will protect the constitutional rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

Together, we represent millions of faithful Georgians, united in a common commitment to protecting human life and dignity. We ask you to respect the values of Georgia’s people of faith, as well as the supreme law of the land, and take action to prevent any more executions of our most vulnerable from occurring.

In Faith and Justice,”

Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Archbishop of Atlanta

Most Reverend Joel M. Konzen, S.M.; Most Reverend Bernard E. Shlesinger, III, and Most Reverend John N. Tran, Auxiliary Bishops of Atlanta

Editor’s Note: Read more on the vigil in the Oct. 19 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.