I oppose the death penalty– under all circumstances. At the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends last summer, I was inspired by the story of Mary Dyer, a 17th century Quaker, and events that occurred after her death.
Mary was originally a Puritan who, under the leadership of Anne Hutchison, gathered with other women to discuss the hours-long sermons they listened to on Sundays. The leaders of the community (all men) believed it was wrong for a woman to head any group focused on the word of God. When Anne refused to stop offering her theological interpretations, they banished her from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mary, following her own conscience, went with Anne to Rhode Island.
Mary Dyer later returned to England to plead for greater religious freedom in the colonies. While there, she encountered the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, who ‘spoke to her condition.’ The Quakers believed that God does not require the intercession of church officials but speaks directly to everyone, woman or man.
She returned to Massachusetts though she knew that Friends who entered that colony three or more times risked being sentenced to death. On her third visit she was caught and nearly executed– she stood with two other Quakers with the noose around her neck. The first two were hung but her son, who was not a Friend, spoke out on her behalf and her life was spared.
While in Rhode Island, she prayed long and hard about bearing witness to religious freedom and in the end, decided to return to Massachusetts. She was caught again and this time hung in the Boston Common until dead. But her story does not end there. The executioner who had the task of hanging three Quakers was so moved by their testimony that after Mary Dyer died by his hands, he set aside his instruments of death and became a member of the Religious Society of Friends.