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Speaking tour to urge rejection of death penalty

Death penalty opponents will take their message to cities across Nebraska next month.

They will urge voters to reject a Nov. 8 ballot initiative that would reinstate capital punishment in the state. And as former death row inmates who have been exonerated, relatives of crime victims who have sought to forgive and others directly impacted by the death penalty, they will lobby with stories from their own lives.

A group called the Catholic Mobilizing Network, launched in 2009 in support of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ efforts against the death penalty and based in Washington, D.C., is organizing the July 15-24 tour. Working in conjunction with a nondenominational group called Journey to Hope: From Violence to Healing, it will include four teams of speakers visiting at least 22 cities from Scottsbluff to Omaha.

The network is seeking sites at which to appear, including Catholic and other Christian churches, community centers and businesses, said Megan Ward, the network’s director of engagement. An itinerary is being worked out that will include stops in South Sioux City, Norfolk, Columbus, Fremont and Omaha in the archdiocese, she said.

And Omar Gutierrez, manager of the archdiocese’s Office of Missions and Justice, said pastors should feel free to allow the group to use parish facilities.

Arguments presented by the group against the death penalty will be moral and practical, and not placed in the context of the church’s wider social teaching, he said.

Gutierrez said he is willing to speak to groups in the archdiocese interested in the church’s perspective on the death penalty. Such talks might be scheduled for late summer or early fall, he said.

The tour comes in the wake of death penalty supporters gathering nearly 167,000 signatures to place reinstatement of capital punishment on the November ballot. The initiative would reverse the state Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty last year over Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto.

Archbishop George J. Lucas, Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island had urged repeal of capital punishment, arguing in part that in today’s society, people can be protected against violent criminals without resorting to the death penalty.

To learn more about the speaking tour or arrange for a presentation, pastors and others can call Ward at 202-541-5290.

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