When I was still teaching, I caught a student plagiarizing a paper. It wasn’t just a matter of improper attribution, either–she had copied and pasted whole paragraphs from Wikipedia, apparently unaware that I knew how to use Google. The next day, her mother called the school and discussed the problem with me. “My children don’t cheat,” she said. This was an article of faith, not a subject for debate. Other kids certainly cheated, but not her children, so regardless of the contrary evidence I could produce, she would not believe it.

Tonight, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, and many people, myself included, believe there is reasonable doubt about Davis’ guilt. Davis was convicted purely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, which even the courts are starting to admit is unreliable. (Speaking as someone who has been the victim of violent crime, I know firsthand that the memory goes straight to hell in a fight or flight situation.) Furthermore, several of those witnesses have recanted.

Nevertheless, Davis was convicted, and his appeals went through the proper channels, so according to those, such as Rick Perry, who sleep soundly in the confidence that the government has never executed an innocent man, he must be guilty. You see, our government doesn’t kill innocent people. Other countries may do that sort of thing, but our justice system is above all that, so there’s no need to examine the massive piles of evidence that show it regularly makes mistakes.

Because if we have to question whether our government kills innocent people, we have to question its moral basis. Or lack thereof.