Stop the Execution of Louis Gaskin

As is common in the death penalty world, it has been an up and down week.
First, the down: I am saddened that once again the Governor has chosen to set the execution for Louis Gaskin, a man with severe mental illness who was sentenced to death by an 8-4 vote jury vote. It is no coincidence that this is the second person with an 8-4 vote that the Governor has chosen for execution. At the same time, he has called for the Legislature to amend Florida’s Death Penalty law to require only 8 jurors to secure a death sentence – the lowest standard in the country.
Additionally, Mr. Gaskin’s last formal clemency review was in 2014, under a previous Governor, almost a decade ago. Act now and ask Governor DeSantis and the Clemency Board to re-open the clemency process and commute Mr. Gaskin’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Now, for the hopeful news: While the House and Senate bills seeking to return Florida to its outlier status allowing non-unanimous death sentences have passed favorably through several committees, some legislators are standing up and voting no. Importantly, when they are debating the issue or explaining the reasons for their no vote, they are echoing all of the concerns and issues we have been raising. This means our voices are being heard. We want those who voted no to know that we see what they are doing and we appreciate their courage to stand up for what is right – please take a moment to thank them here.
Finally, please know that even if you are not in Florida, you can still take our actions. We know that our Governor and other state leaders pay attention to national and international opinions about both their governing ability in general and the death penalty in specific. All of our voices matter.
Maria DeLiberatoFADP Executive Director
P.S.: Keep checking our website for updated information about Louis’s case and ways you can help. Please consider making a contribution today to help us keep up this important fight.

Lakewood UCC Supports New College Rally

UCC General Minister and President Rev John Dorhauer with LUCC continent Kim Wells, Emily Bell, and Dyanne Edds
UCC General Minister and President Rev John Dorhauer with LUCC continent Kim Wells, Emily Bell, and Dyanne Edds

Four members of Lakewood UCC joined hundreds of students, faculty, parents and supporters of New College in Sarasota in a demonstration on Tuesday Feb. 28.  The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, traveled from Cleveland, Ohio to speak at the demonstration.  There were pastors and congregants from numerous other UCC churches in west central Florida who also were present.

Why was this important to us?  The Board for Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ started New College sixty years ago.  Now it is part of the Florida public college system.   Recently, the FL Governor appointed six new trustees and a president to the college to reform it into a conservative replica of Hillsdale College in Michigan.  New College has traditionally been a place which welcomed all students regardless of race, religion, or sexual identity.  The students have thrived there where they might not have in another college environment.  

The protest at New College had two components.  First was the outdoor demonstration at 11:00 am, with more than 250 participants, most with signs denouncing the hostile takeover of New College by the new conservative trustees appointed by Governor DeSantis.  A particularly passionate statement was made by the Rev. John Dorhauer, from the UCC, who complained about what was happening at New College, which was founded and funded by the UCC.

The second part of the protest took place at the formal Board of Trustees Meeting beginning at 1:10 pm.  The meeting began with a short report by a member of the Board Of Governors about the gains in the reputation of Florida’s Universities in the past 10 years. Then the floor was open to comments from the public.  Each speaker was limited to one minute.  Forty-nine speakers took the podium – students, faculty, alumni, parents and other concerned persons.  All but one condemned the actions of the governor and the trustees as they tried to change the nature of New College, one of the top 5 Liberal Arts Colleges in the country.  Most of the comments were directed against the firing of the current president and the hiring of a politician with no background in higher education at a salary and perks of more than a million dollars, and the disbanding of programs promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Many of the most passionate speeches were met with applause and cheering by those in the audience, but not by the trustees!

One of the main highlights of the demonstration for the LUCC contingent was meeting and hearing Dr. John Dorhauer.   His message was inspiring and passionate.  When he spoke his “minute” at the Trustees meeting, many of the students rose to their feet in gleeful applause.  

The number of UCC people in attendance and the passion and preparedness of the students filled us with pride and hope.  

To stand and be present with the students, families, alums, and faculty was truly meaningful. 

Those who went from LUCC:  Dyanne Edds, Emily Bell, Bill Parsons, and Kim Wells

UCC appeal for Turkey and Syria

UCC offers prayers, launches appeal to aid Turkey and Syria after earthquake

Kayla Berkey

Photo from the Middle East Council of Churches. Aleppo, Syria.

| published on Feb 14, 2023

The United Church of Christ is offering prayers for the region encompassing Turkey and Syria as the death toll continues to climb following one of the strongest earthquakes in 100 years. As of Feb. 13, the number of people killed has passed 36,000. Responders who have worked hard in the cold weather continue to rescue victims from the ruins as the odds of survival begin to wane over a week since the Feb. 6 quake. Many survivors are struggling to find enough food, water and basic amenities.

UCC Global H.O.P.E. has launched the Turkey and Syria Emergency Appeal to direct financial support to partners responding in the areas of greatest need for relief and long-term recovery.

Assessing needs

“We continue to be in regular contact with partners in Turkey and Syria, who are active in the response,” said Peter Makari, Global Ministries team leader for Middle East and Europe. This includes in Gaziantep, Turkey, where the UCC had a hand in establishing and offering a missionary presence at the Gaziantep Hospital. The Health and Education Foundation (SEV), the Turkish partner that runs the hospital, said that while the building has experienced only minor damage, Gaziantep is one of the ten cities that has been badly affected, and many in the area are experiencing shock and fear. The hospital will likely serve as a hub for medical treatment, said Makari.

Earthquake survivors gather in the lower level of a church in Aleppo, Syria. Photo from the Middle East Council of Churches. Used with permission.

Another partner, the Middle East Council of Churches, has been involved in emergency response in Syria and called on the international ecumenical community to provide emergency aid in the region. In a Feb. 12 update, MECC reported that at this point, approximately 5.3 million people are estimated to need assistance that ranges from house repair to life-saving medical care for survivors.

On Friday, Feb. 10, the U.S. eased sanctions on Syria temporarily to allow access to the north-west areas of the country where very little aid has been able to reach. This follows calls from Global Ministries and MECC urging the Biden Administration to lift these sanctions. As this part of Syria is already vulnerable due to the 12-year-long war, the international sanctions were making it extremely difficult to offer humanitarian assistance following the quakes, the action alert said.

Statement of support

Global Ministries, the common overseas ministry of the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), released a statement offering prayers and support for partners in response to the tragedy. An excerpt reads:

We petition our loving and compassionate God for strength for those who are already responding to search for those who may be lost, to deliver medical care to those in need, and to console and encourage the many who are now wondering what is next.  And we offer encouragement to our partners throughout the region – in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Greece, and beyond – who are working tirelessly to be present in most appropriate ways.

The region is already scarred by war, economic crises, and the impact of external policies.  Our partners in the region are calling on the global community to lift sanctions on Syria, a country torn by 12 years of strife, so that humanitarian assistance can be provided without any hindrance.  We support that call.

These partners, who are well-practiced in emergency response, are already in motion to respond to the immediate needs of communities that were destroyed in an instant.  We will support their efforts.

And partners who are in and of the region will accompany those same communities for the longer term when the initial devastation is no longer in the news.  We will accompany them as we have before.

The full statement with additional links and resources is available on the Global Ministries website.

Transnational solidarity

Join The Movement Toward Racial Justice is encouraging transnational solidarity which “implores us to delve more deeply into our interconnectedness” with those directly impacted by this tragedy.

“It is difficult to hold the enormity of the tragedy that is unfolding in Turkey and Syria in the recent earthquake’s aftermath. Each day brings news of more recorded deaths, less hope for finding survivors, and deepening need for food, housing and medical assistance,” writes JTM Curator Sharon Fennema. “Our hearts ache for the loss of life, the shattered communities, the tremendous devastation.

“Moments like these offer us an invitation to deepen our practices of transnational solidarity … The movement toward racial justice is global in scope. The justice we imagine must be for all of us, across borders and national identities.”

Photo of damage in Syria provided by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch – Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (GOPA-DERD). Used with permission.

JTM resources offer ways to process the overwhelm that accompanies such a tragedy with biblical connections to the story of Ruth and Naomi and contemplative practices that can be used to pray and ground in solidarity.

More information on the Turkey and Syria Earthquake Appeal and information on how to donate can be found here.