Clergy Press Conference Speech and Maryland General Assembly Testimony of Rev. Megan Foley, Sugarloaf UU, on Death Penalty Repeal
I come to the work of repealing Maryland’s death penalty from two different paths.
From one path, I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, and Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love. We stand on the side of love even when the person we’re standing beside is hard to love. We know that every person has a seed of God inside of them, even when we can’t see it, and we know that we are all foundationally connected to one another. From this perspective, it doesn’t make any sense for the government to be in the business of killing anyone, no matter what they have done. Unitarian Universalists believe that it’s time that Maryland stood on the side of love, too.
From the other path, I am also a family member of a murder victim. My father was serving his country as a Foreign Service officer when he was shot and killed in front of his house in Amman, Jordan, by al-Qaeda operatives. His killers were sentenced to death. Most of them have been executed.
I am probably one of the few people in this room who have experienced the execution of my loved one’s killers. Perhaps you have wondered if maybe what they always say is true, and that execution of murderers brings a sense of closure, of justice, of peace to the family of the one murdered. Let me assure you, execution does not bring any of those things. The horror I experienced upon my father’s death was compounded by the horror I felt when his killers were put to death. What was most terrible about my father’s murder was knowing that people I love can be suddenly and brutally destroyed. I was struck and horrified by a world that seemed suddenly to have gone awry. When I saw the faces of my father’s killers, I realized that they too were dearly loved by someone. Someone would be grieving their deaths. And the rage that killed my father would only increase.
Martin Luther King told us that the ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. As a minister and the daughter of a murder victim, I work to diminish evil, not multiply it. Maryland, I am sure, also wants to be in the business of diminishing evil and not multiplying it. May the years ahead of us bring a world where evil is weakened and love stands strong. Repealing Maryland’s death penalty will put us on that path. May it be so.
I am the Reverend Megan Foley. I am the minister of the Sugarloaf Congregation of Unitarian Universalists in Germantown, Maryland, and I am representing the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland today as well.
I am testifying today as the daughter of a murder victim. My father, Laurence Foley, was serving as a Foreign Service officer when he was shot and killed in front of his house in Amman, Jordan in 2002 by members of an al-Qaeda cell. His killers were sentenced to death and were subsequently executed.
I am one of the very few people you’ll hear from today who has actually experienced the execution of my loved one’s killers.
I often hear legislators who have not yet made up their minds about repeal say that they might like to reserve the right to execute killers if what those killers have done is particularly egregious. It’s as if the death penalty is a gift that the state of Maryland might be able to offer to the family members of victims to compensate them for their loss.
Please hear me when I tell you from personal experience – and I’m also speaking to the other family members of victims who might be in this room, who may also want to know – please hear me when I tell you that execution of killers does not bring any of the things it’s advertised to bring. Having my father’s killers executed did not bring me a sense of closure, or a sense of justice, or a sense of peace. I did not feel that things had been made fair. In fact, the execution of those men made me feel far worse.
You see, more than anything else, I hated the capricious violence that took my father’s life. I wanted – and I want now – I want the world to be a place where fathers are safe from the murderous schemes of others. To me, to kill his killers is more violence, a deeper descent into horror, another wrong step down a terrible path. The death penalty is not a gift that the state of Maryland gives to families of victims. It never can be. Killing does not heal. It does nothing but wound us all even more.
I’ve been reflecting on some words that Martin Luther King wrote:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
This is what I found to be true when my father’s killers were killed. I wanted to kill hate, to kill the lie. That’s what would have made me feel better. Killing the hater or the liar is not at all the same thing. That’s making the hate worse.
I wasn’t a minister yet when this happened to my family, but I became one soon after. As a minister, it’s my job to say things like this to people and encourage them to remember the mechanism by which we make the world a less likely place to lose a father or a husband or a child before his time.
As legislators, though, it’s in your hands that this work gets done. I hope and pray that you’ll do your part to make our world a safer place for all of us, because that’s your job. I believe if you repeal Maryland’s death penalty then we’ll be a step closer.
Thank you for your attention.