Every time we voice our pledge to the flag, we are reminded of our American commitment: “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Justice is important. We cannot have liberty without justice. Cornelius Dupree Jr.’s recent exoneration and release after serving 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit along with the growing number of exonerations based on DNA testing raises huge questions.
John Grisham’s latest novel, “The Confession,” underscores the difficulties. Although a work of fiction, his story of a young black man wrongly convicted in Texas and executed in Huntsville is chilling. It is reminiscent of scenes from Steven King’s novel, The Green Mile. I once stood beside the execution table in the death chamber at Huntsville. The sense of the place was haunting. Many have gone to their deaths in that room guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. Others, it appears, were innocent.
Ed Gray, former prosecutor in the Dallas County district attorney’s office recently wrote a memoir of his career entitled, Henry Wade’s Tough Justice. Wade was the Dallas County DA for 36 years. He is best known for prosecuting Jack Ruby for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Gray states that the standing joke in the Wade administration was “Anybody can convict a guilty person. Convicting the innocent is the trick.”
The best known person ever condemned and executed for crimes he did not commit was Jesus. He was wrongly accused before the courts of his day and appeared before the Roman governor, Pilate, who, after yielding to social and political pressure, sentenced him to die. He was then tortured and crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem according to Roman law.
Like most Americans I still believe we have the best judicial system on earth. But no system can rise above the people involved in it, including lawyers, judges, juries, officers and those called upon for testimony. As believers who worship the One who suffered the world’s greatest injustice we need constantly to commit ourselves to truth, honesty, integrity and ethics that preserve the freedoms we hold so precious.
Justice, of course, extends beyond the courtroom. We create or erode a just society every day by the way we live, by being truthful and honest in all our dealings. My middle son once stood in line for more than half an hour to return a few dollars to a department store that the clerk had mistakenly given him in change. When he finally reached the counter, the workers in the service department were dumbfounded. No one had ever stood in line to return money. Their system wasn’t set up to handle it. An older man standing in line behind him and watching stopped him. “Young man. If you ever need a job, you call me.”
Every lie, every slander, every dishonest deed destroys a nation. Every truth, every encouragement, every honest action, builds up a people. Deuteronomy 16: 20 says, “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Micah 6:8 states, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”