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Death penalty group begins on campus

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, October 26, 2006

Given the debate surrounding the death penalty within the Catholic Church, Notre Dame, as a Catholic University, should address it.

That’s the philosophy of Notre Dame Against State Killing (NDASK), a new student organization.

The group will launch its first event this fall with a series of lectures to educate students about the death penalty.

NDASK co-organizers junior Andrea Laidman and senior Will McAuliffe – who is also an Observer columnist – described the organization as a campaign under the direction of the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry. It forms a coalition with various other student groups on campus – including the Notre Dame Law School’s ND Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Notre Dame Right to Life and Amnesty International – who will help them sponsor and publicize events.

“Last spring, in talking to friends, we realized that there isn’t really an informed opinion about [the death penalty] on campus,” Laidman said. “Everyone had very strong opinions, but they didn’t really have the facts on it.”

The group differs from Notre Dame Right to Life, McAuliffe said, because it focuses solely on the death penalty issue. NDASK helps Right to Life and Amnesty International to turn their focus to their other issues because it assumes responsibility for educating students about the death penalty, McAuliffe said.

“With us focusing solely on this issue, they don’t have to divert any of their own resources within their group.”

NDASK’s mission goes beyond educating students on Notre Dame’s campus. Its long-term goal is to work toward establishing a moratorium on the death penalty in the state of Indiana.

“It’s not a one-year goal,” Laidman said. “This is going to be a lasting campaign on the campus. It takes so much mobilization to campaign for [a moratorium on the death penalty] at the state level.”

The group has a list of around 100 members, Laidman said, but a core team of about five has organized the group.

The organization has planned poster campaigns, information sessions, a trip to Indiana’s death row in Michigan City and an upcoming lecture series this fall.

The lecture series will introduce a human element to complement statistics and figures, Laidman said. The speakers for the lecture series each bring a unique viewpoint on the death penalty, she said.

“We want people to hear these different stories, then draw the statistics and facts together with them,” Laidman said.

Thomas Anthony Durkin, a 1968 Notre Dame graduate and a lawyer in Chicago, will speak Nov. 1 in the Annenberg Auditorium of the Snite Museum about his role in establishing a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois.

Geographically, Indiana is in a good position because it is next to Illinois and moratorium advocates can draw on its resources in their fight against the death penalty, McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe said Deacon George Brooks, director of advocacy and jail chaplain for Kolbe House, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s prison and jail ministry, will speak Nov. 8 in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium about seeing murderers as children of God.

Former Indiana Gov. Joseph Kernan will speak Nov. 15 in the Coleman-Morse Student Lounge about his feelings on the death penalty.

Kernan has said he supports the death penalty in principle, but believes it should only be used in the most serious cases.

Indiana State Senator John Broden, a 1987 graduate of Notre Dame, will speak Nov. 29 at the same location. He currently serves as a member of the Indiana Assessment Team of the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

A forum will be held in the spring semester to continue the conversation about the death penalty.

This is an issue that “can really attract students from a diverse background of interests,” said Laidman, explaining that the death penalty debate involves legal, political and moral aspects.

“It seems that in learning about it students become more and more interested,” she said.