An Arkansas judge and pastor of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration this week, re-enacting symbolic speech that a year ago led to his being barred from hearing capital punishment cases.
Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., strapped himself on a cot and lay motionless Tuesday night during a vigil outside the governor’s mansion. The vigil was for four inmates put to death in Arkansas last year, victims of violent crime and prisoners currently on death row.
Media photos of the judge and pastor posing similarly at a death penalty protest on Good Friday 2017 prompted the Arkansas Supreme Court to permanently ban him from all civil and criminal cases involving capital punishment, the death penalty or the method of execution in Arkansas.
Last October Griffen filed a civil right lawsuit accusing the justices of violating his First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights and claiming the sanction against him was racially motivated.
Griffen said on his blog April 18 he is as committed to both the rule of law and expressing his moral and religious opposition to the death penalty as he was a year ago, “if not more so.”
Griffen said when his authority to preside over capital cases is restored, he will follow state law making death by lethal injection a punishment for capital murder, but his obligation to follow the law does not to compel him to agree with it.
“The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects my freedom to hold and express moral and religious opposition to the death penalty, including freedom to peacefully and lawfully question the morality of state-sanctioned premeditated and deliberate killing of people who have been convicted for the premeditated and deliberate killing of other persons,” Griffen wrote.
“If a person who has been convicted of premeditated murder is deliberately and premeditatedly killed, we should condemn that killing as murder,” he continued. “Murder is wrong, even when the state hires people to do it. Anger and bloodlust are not excuses for the state to commit premeditated murder of people who have committed premeditated murder for an understandable reason. Two wrongs don’t make anything right.”
Last June Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leaders traveled to Arkansas to show support for Griffen’s right to express his religious beliefs while serving as an elected judge. In February, Griffen publicly criticized the CBF for instituting a partial ban on LGBTQ hiring and said he would ask his church to revisit its relationship with the 1,800-church Fellowship in light of the policy.