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9 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 137 (2000-2001)
God and the Executioner: The Influence of Western Religion on the Death Penalty

handle is hein.journals/wmbrts9 and id is 145 raw text is: GOD AND THE EXECUTIONER: THE INFLUENCE OF
Davison M. Douglas'
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 thepew 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
Justice William 0. Douglas' observation almost fifty years ago that [w]e are
a religious people' remains accurate today.2 Accordingly, public debates about the
* Professor of Law and Director, Institute of Bill of Rights Law, William and Mary
School of Law. I would like to thank Russell Pearce for his comments on an earlier draft of
this article, and David Primack and Eric Tew for their research assistance.
Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952). The Court stated We are a religious
people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being .... When the state encourages
religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities... it follows the best of our
traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the
public service to their spiritual needs. Id. at 313-14.
2 Poll surveys consistently demonstrate the highly religious nature of the American
people. A Gallup poll conducted in March 2000 found:
61% say religion is very important in their lives, 68% are members of a church
or synagogue, and 60% attend religious service on a regular basis (36% attend
weekly or more often, 1 I% almost every week, and 13% about once a month).
Thus, it is no surprise that a comparably high number of Americans-660/o--
also say that religion can answer all or most of today's problems .... [These]
patterns have remained remarkably similar since Gallup began asking these
questions, some as long as six decades ago.
David W. Moore, Two of Three Americans Feel Religion Can Answer Most of Today's
Problems, The Gallup Organization (Mar. 29, 2000), available at http://www.gallup.com/

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