Inland Empire Bells Toll in Protest of Execution

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Church bells echoed across the Inland Empire on Monday as religious organizations, most of them Roman Catholic, protested the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh--the first person put to death by the federal government since 1963.

As its battle cry, the organizations invoked passages of "For Whom the Bell Tolls," the 17th century work declaring that "any man's death diminishes me." In this case, protest leaders said, that includes the man responsible for the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism.

"Forgiveness is a much higher form of virtue," said Tom Lenart, coordinator of adult education programs at St. George Catholic Church in Ontario--where leaders rang two steeple bells at 7 a.m. Monday to protest the execution.

"They say it will bring closure, but they will find that their feelings of satisfaction are very empty," he said. "Had he spent more time in prison, he would have had a great amount of time to think. He could have come on bended knee and asked their pardon, which would have been much more satisfying," Lenart said, noting that McVeigh offered no hint of remorse.

Nine churches--eight Catholic and one Episcopal, from Riverside and San Bernardino counties--participated in Monday's protest, said coordinator and Riverside resident Carolyn F. Boyle. The protest, which included bell-ringing and prayer vigils, was the first substantial act of an anti-death penalty group that Boyle and others are organizing in the Inland Empire.

The region--east and south of Los Angeles and Orange counties--is one of the most conservative in the state and is a curious locale for such opposition to the death penalty.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus, a fervent supporter of the death penalty, acknowledged that it is surprising the opposition was centered in the Inland Empire. But he said the region is marked as much by fierce individualism as conservative politics.

"We're very opinionated," Postmus said. "It doesn't trouble me. They have every right to do it."

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