PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty Weak Among Blacks and Hispanics

According to new polling analysis from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, support for the death penalty among the general public has dropped to 62% (August 2007), down from a high of 80% support in the mid-1990s.  Among black respondents, 51% opposed the death penalty and only 40% were in favor.  Hispanics were about evenly split with 48% in favor of the death penalty and 47% opposed.  Eighty-two (82%) percent of conservative Republicans support the death penalty, but only 41% of liberal Democrats.  Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants had the highest support--74%.

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Jews join struggle against NJ death penalty

by Michal Lando
December 13, 2007
Jerusalem Post

New Jersey is on its way to becoming the first state to repeal the death penalty since 1976, when the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, and Jews are using tradition to weigh in on the process.

On Monday, a bill to replace the death penalty with life in prison with no parole was approved by the New Jersey Senate, largely seen as the greatest obstacle to repeal. State legislators expect the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which votes Thursday, to approve the measure as well, almost guaranteeing an end to the death penalty in the state's judicial system.

The vote is the result of a commission charged in 2006 by the New Jersey legislature with studying all aspects of the death penalty as currently administered in the state. The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, which looked at deterrence, accuracy and financial costs among a number of other death penalty-related issues, found that the system was ineffective and recommended that it be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Death Penalty Tests a Church as It Mourns

By ALISON LEIGH COWAN October 28, 2007
New York Times

CHESHIRE, Conn., Oct. 25 — The United Methodist Church here is the kind of politically active place where parishioners take to the pulpit to discuss poverty in El Salvador and refugees living in Meriden. But few issues engage its passions as much as the death penalty.

The last three pastors were opponents of capital punishment. Church-sponsored adult education classes promote the idea of “restorative justice,” advocating rehabilitation over punishment. Two years ago, congregants attended midnight vigils outside the prison where Connecticut executed a prisoner for the first time in 45 years.

So it might have been expected that United Methodist congregants would speak out forcefully when a brutal triple murder here in July led to tough new policies against violent criminals across the state and a pledge from prosecutors to seek capital punishment against the defendants.

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RIGHTS-INDIA: Sikhs Worldwide Campaign for Death Penalty Abolition

By Sujoy Dhar
Oct 29, 2007

BRUSSELS - On March 23, 1931, an Indian Sikh named Bhagat Singh attained martyrdom when he was hanged by the British for his role in the militant freedom struggle against the colonial rulers.

About 75 years later, Professor Jagmohan Singh, a nephew of the liberation hero, preaches peace and mercy as he joins a worldwide campaign, especially in Europe, by his Sikh community against death penalty.

The life and work of Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and his death by hanging in Lahore (now Pakistan) at the hands of British imperialism has been a great saga of patriotism for generations of Indians.

But while Bhagat Singh trod a path of violence to achieve freedom, his Sikh community, though known as a courageous warrior race, today believes more in the non-violence preaching of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who brought India independence from British rule by peaceful non-cooperation. Gandhi was vocal against death penalty, saying: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

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Religious leaders plead to end death penalty in N.J.

November 28, 2007
Home News Tribune

TRENTON — More than 550 New Jersey religious leaders — including 135 from Middlesex, Somerset, Union and Hunterdon counties — are calling on state lawmakers to abolish the death penalty.

The religious leaders from varying faiths made their pleas in two letters delivered Tuesday to all 120 legislators and Gov. Jon S. Corzine. They say the death penalty fails the state legally, morally and economically.

One letter, signed by more than 500 leaders from various faiths, was delivered and organized by New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The other was signed by the state's five Roman Catholic bishops, three auxiliary bishops and two Byzantine Catholic bishops and delivered by the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

"We write to you with the sound moral backing of official positions taken by the leadership bodies of our various denominations and faiths," the larger petition said. "We wish to be clear, however, that our concerns are secular and pragmatic, just as much as they are rooted in our religious traditions. The death penalty is not in the best interests of our state, our justice system, or the safety of our people."

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IN THEORY: Opinions on the death penalty

June 17, 2007
The Daily Pilot

Many academics in recent years have been arguing that their studies prove the death penalty deters murder. The various studies show that between 3 and 18 lives could be saved by executing a convicted killer. Critics question the data, saying that the experts made mistakes in their methodology. What do you think of this recent data? Has it affected your position on the issue?

Judaism has always believed in capital punishment based upon Biblical Law.

A man must stand trial according to due process of law. You shall not murder is the sixth of the Ten Commandments. It is followed by another of God's Decrees that "if you shed the blood of your brother, then your blood shall be shed in its place."

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Crime and Sacrifice

What does the cross tell us about the ethics of capital punishment?
by Tobias Winright
Sojourners Magazine
April 2007

At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death and the tomb. We praise God who raised, and thereby vindicated, the falsely accused Innocent One who three days earlier was executed by crucifixion at the hands of an occupying Roman military force. Considered one of the cruelest, most humiliating methods of capital punishment, the cross was reserved by the Romans for slaves who were thieves and for rebels who were not Roman citizens. Especially during the highly charged atmosphere of the Passover festival, which commemorates the Israelites' earlier liberation from the oppressive Egyptians, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and his troops were on red alert for insurrectionist threats from Zealots among the Jewish population.

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NEW RESOURCE: Religion and the Death Penalty Web Page

The Death Penalty Information Center's new Religion and the Death Penalty Web page is now available online. In recent years, a growing number of religious organizations have participated in the nation's death penalty debate. The purpose of this new Web page is to provide access to information regarding the efforts of these faith groups and to highlight recent developments related to religion and the death penalty. The page features official religious statements on the death penalty from nearly 20 denominations, including a dozen branches of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It also includes polling information and a broad spectrum of articles and opinions concerning the death penalty from a religious point of view. Visit DPIC's new Religion and the Death Penalty Web page in our Resources Section. Comments and suggestions are welcome. (Posted Feb.  26, 2007).



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Vatican Says Death Penalty Is "Affront to Human Dignity"

In a position paper issued this month during the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris, the Vatican said that the death penalty "is not only a refusal of the right to life, but it also is an affront to human dignity." Echoing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paper noted that while governments have an obligation to protect their citizens, "today it truly is difficult to justify" using capital punishment when other means of protection, such as life in prison, are possible. The Vatican also gave support to all international campaigns to proclaim a moratorium on the use of capital punishment and the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

"The Holy See takes this occassion to welcome and affirm again its support for all initiatives aimed at defending the inherent and inviolable value of all human life . . . . Consciences have been awakened by the need for a great recognition of the inalienable dignity of human beings and by the universality and integrity of human rights, beginning with the right to life," the Vatican stated. The Holy See added that the death penalty carries "numerous risks," including the danger of punishing innocent people, and that capital punishment promotes "violent forms of revenge rather than a true sense of social justice." The paper concluded that the death penalty contributes to a "culture of violence" and that for Christians it shows "a contempt for the Gospel teaching on forgiveness."

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Religion and the Death Penalty


Official Religious Statements on the Death Penalty

Articles and Opinions Concerning the Death Penalty from a Religious Point of View

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Opinion Polls: Death Penalty and Religion

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In recent years, a growing number of religious organizations have participated in the nation's death penalty debate. The purpose of this Web page is to provide access to information regarding the efforts of these faith groups and to highlight recent developments related to religion and the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center seeks to provide an overview of this topic and does not endorse any religious viewpoint on this issue.

Official Religious Statements on the Death Penalty


Note: The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations does not describe itself as a part of the Christian faith, but its roots are in Christianity, therefore, it is included under the heading of Christianity.

Articles and Opinions on the Death Penalty from a Religious Point of View





Opinion Polls: Death Penalty Support and Religion


Gallup Poll: Who Supports the Death Penalty? The combined aggregate results from the nine surveys conducted from 2001 through 2004 show some interesting, albeit subtle, differences in death penalty support by religious affiliation.

Church Attendance

Americans who attend religious services on a regular basis are slightly less likely to support the death penalty than those who attend less frequently. Although a majority of frequent and infrequent churchgoers support the death penalty, the data show that 65% of those who attend services weekly or nearly weekly favor capital punishment, compared with 69% of those who attend services monthly and 71% of those who seldom or never attend.


Religious Preference

Individuals who self-identify as Protestants are somewhat more likely to endorse capital punishment than are Catholics and far more likely than those with no religious preference. More than 7 in 10 Protestants (71%) support the death penalty, while 66% of Catholics support it. Fifty-seven percent of those with no religious preference favor the death penalty for murder.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 6,498 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 19-21, 2001; May 10-14, 2001; Oct. 11-14, 2001; May 6-9, 2002; Oct. 14-17, 2002; May 5-7, 2003; Oct 6-9, 2003; May 2-4, 2004; and Oct. 11-14, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ± 2 percentage points. (Press Release "Who Supports the Death Penalty?" by Joseph Carroll, Gallup Poll (November 16, 2004)).
Zogby Polls Finds Dramatic Decline in Catholic Support For the Death Penalty

A national poll of Roman Catholic adults conducted by Zogby International found that Catholic support for capital punishment has declined dramatically in recent years. The Zogby Poll was released on March 21, 2005 at a press conference of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as it announced a new Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty. The poll revealed that only 48% of Catholics now support the death penalty. Comparable polls by other organizations had registered a 68% support among Catholics in 2001. In addition, the percentage of Catholics who are strongly supportive of capital punishment hs halved, from a high of 40% to 20% in the most recent survey. The poll also found that:
    • Regular churchgoers are less likely to support the death penalty than those who attend infrequently.
    • Younger Catholics are among those least likely to support the death penalty.
    • A third of Catholics who once supported the use of the death penalty now oppose it.

Among the major reasons Catholics gave for their opposition to capital punishment was "respect for life," and 63% voiced concerns about what the use of the death penalty "does to us as a people and a country." Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, was joined at the press conference by John Zogby, President of Zogby International, Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and Kirk Bloodsworth, who was freed from death row after DNA evidence led to his exoneration. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Press Release, March 21, 2005)

Public Religion Research Poll Finds That Mainline Protestant Clergy are Strongly Opposed to the Death Penalty

A national poll of Mainline Protestant clergy conducted in 2008 by Public Religion Research, LLC, revealed that 66% of mainline clergy oppose the death penalty while only 27% support it. The level of opposition to capital punishment varies significantly based on denomination. Eighty-two percent of ministers from the Universal Church of Christ (UCC) and 81% of Episcopal ministers oppose capital punishment. However, only 53% of American Baptist ministers oppose the death penalty. The survey also found that Mainline Protestant ministers are less likely to speak out on controversial social issues. Twenty-six percent of Mainline Protestant clergy state that they often discuss the issue of capital punishment.

The seven largest Mainline Protestant denominations in the United States include the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, American Baptist Churches USA, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). ("Clergy Voices: Findings from the 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voices Survey," Public Religion Research, March 6, 2009)

2014 Public Religion Research Institute Poll Finds That Most Religious Affiliations in the United States Prefer Life in Prison Without Parole to the Death Penalty

The September 2014 "American Values Survey" by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRPI) showed that 48% of Americans said they preferred life without parole as the punishment for murder, as compared to 44% who said they preferred the death penalty. The poll found what PRPI commentators described as "significant religious divides on this issue." Support for the death penalty was lowest among Hispanic and Black Protestants, at 24% and 25%, respectively. 68% of each preferred life without parole. Catholics, Jews, other non-Christian religions, and the religiously unaffiliated all preferred life without parole to the death penalty.  Only White evangelical (59 percent) and White mainline Protestants (52 percent) expressed majority support for the death penalty, with 34% and 40% from these groups, respectively, preferring life without parole.

(J. Piacenza, Support for Death Penalty by Religious Affiliation (Apr. 9, 2015))

Death Penalty by Religious Affiliation Table v2 copy


Related Links

Amnesty International's Weekend of Faith in Action
California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty
Catholics Against Capital Punishment
Catholic Mobilizing Network to End Use of the Death Penalty
Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Religion and the Death Penalty links
Dead Man Walking School Theater Project
Death Penalty Curriculum - a Sunday school curriculum for adults and older youth
I was in Prison and You Visited Me
Living the Questions - Questioning Capital Punishment with Sister Helen Prejean
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
Theology Library: The Death Penalty
The United Methodist Church: The Political Community: Death Penalty
Religious Tolerance


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