God and the Executioner: The Influence of Western Religion on the Use of the Death Penalty

35 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2011

Date Written: 2001


The attitude of religious groups towards the use of capital punishment has ebbed and flowed throughout history. This essay contains an historical review of religious attitudes towards capital punishment and the influence of those attitudes on the state’s use of the death penalty.

The Christian Church has expressed strong support for capital punishment throughout most of its history, but in recent decades, opposition to the death penalty within the Catholic Church and many Protestant groups has emerged. The same is true with Judaism.

Despite this recent abolitionist sentiment from an array of religious institutions, there has been a divergence of opinion between the "pulpit and the pew" as the laity in the United States continues to support the death penalty in large numbers. This divergence is due in part to the declining influence of religious organizations over the social policy choices of their members. Consequently, the fate of the death penalty in the United States will most likely be resolved in the realm of the secular rather than the sacred.

Keywords: death penalty, capital punishment, religion and death penalty, Catholic Church and death penalty, Judaism and death penalty, support for death penalty, religious attitudes towards the death penalty

Suggested Citation

Douglas, Davison M., God and the Executioner: The Influence of Western Religion on the Use of the Death Penalty (2001). William & Mary Bill of Rights, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-73, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1761622

Davison M. Douglas (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States
757-221-3853 (Phone)
757-221-3775 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics