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9 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 201 (2000-2001)
The Role of Organized Religions in Changing Death Penalty Debates

handle is hein.journals/wmbrts9 and id is 209 raw text is: THE ROLE OF ORGANIZED RELIGIONS IN CHANGING
Michael L. Radelet'
In his Article, Professor Michael L. Radelet describes a global decline in the
use of the death penalty, the United Nation 'sprogressively stronger stance against
executions, and a growing opposition to capital punishment in the United States.
This decrease is attributed to both empirical studies casting doubt on the death
penalty's efficacy in promoting its stated underlying goals, and to the increasingly
vocal stance of religious leaders morally opposed io capital punishment.
Nevertheless, the decline in otherjustifications for capital punishment has been met
with increasing reliance on retribution as the primary argument in its support.
Professor Radelet argues that retribution 's. moral, rather than empirical, base
makes it an issue largely within the purview of religious denominations, the
traditional source of a community's moral authority. Professor Radelet predicts
that religious leaders' increasing opposition to the flawed administration of the
death penalty, rather than their lesser support for the abstract concept of capital
punishment, will tip the balance toward its abolition in America.
The symposium on which this Article is based met in Williamsburg, Virginia,
just a few miles from Jamestown, where in 1608 a man named George Kendall
became the first person to be executed on American shores.' At that symposium,
I argued that there is an accelerating trend toward worldwide abolition of the death
penalty. America's executioners have not written their final obituaries, but this area
of central Virginia is certainly a fitting place to meet and reflect on historical and
recent trends in attitudes toward and the use of the death penalty, and the past and
future role of organized religions in leading or fueling these changes. Dare we
suggest that we have come almost full circle?
Worldwide, the death penalty is increasingly confined to a smaller and smaller
number of countries. Amnesty International reports that in 1999 only thirty-one
* Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Florida. An earlier draft
of this paper was presented at a Conference on Religion's Role in the Administration of the
Death Penalty, Marshall-Wythe School of Law, College of William and Mary, April 7,
See Francis X. Clines, The Grim List of Those Put to Death, N.Y. TIMES, Nov. 18,
1992, at A16 (explaining that it is possible that others were executed before Kendall, but his
is the earliest execution for which documentation exists today).

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