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

By Davison M. Douglas / William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, on 1 January 2000

In this essay, Professor Douglas conducts an historical review of religious attitudes toward capital punishment and the influence of those attitudes on the state’s use of the death penalty. He surveys the Christian Church’s strong support for capital punishment throughout most of its history, along with recent expressions of opposition from many Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish groups. Despite this recent abolitionist sentiment from an array of religious institutions, Professor Douglas notes a divergence of opinion between the “pulpit and the pew” as the laity continues to support the death penalty in large numbers. Professor Douglas accounts for this divergence by noting the declining influence of religious organizations over the social policy choices of their members. He concludes that the fate of the death penalty in America will therefore “most likely be resolved in the realm of the secular rather than the sacred.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Religion ,