Most Americans approve of the death penalty as punishment for heinous crimes like murder, but adults who identify as religiously affiliated are much more likely to support capital punishment than atheists and agnostics, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.

Pew’s research found that on average, 60% of U.S. adults generally favor the death penalty.

  • That support of government sanctioned capital punishment was most prevalent in white evangelicals and white non-evangelical Protestants who supported capital punishment at 75% and 73%.
  • Generally, a smaller majority, 55%, of nonreligious-affiliated Americans supported the death penalty.
Why is the death penalty discussed in religious terms?

Atheists against capital punishment

But atheist and agnostics are strongly opposed to capital punishment at a much higher margins than their God-believing brethren, Pew reported.

  • “Atheists and agnostics are the only religious groups in this analysis that are more likely to oppose the death penalty than to support it,” according to Pew.
  • Of atheists, 34% “strongly oppose” the death penalty, as did 24% of agnostics. Only 35% of atheists and 43% of agnostics generally favored capital punishment.
  • A small minority, 9%, of white evangelicals are strongly opposed the death penalty.

Catholics, Black Protestants narrowly divided

The poll found that American Catholics and Black Protestants are more closely aligned with nonreligious Americans than evangelicals in their views of the death penalty.

  • Catholics are generally supportive of the death penalty, 58%, but not to the extremes. Only 27% “strongly favor” capital punishment and 14% responded that they strongly oppose the death penalty.
  • Black Protestants are divided in their views on the death penalty, with 50% in favor and 47% opposed, mirroring a broader trend of lower support for the death penalty among Black Americans overall,” Pew reported.
The Christian case for ending the death penalty

An innocent person at risk

Where the religious and nonreligious affiliated appear to agree is that the death penalty is not a criminal deterrent and there is a chance the government could kill a person who has been wrongly convicted, according to Pew’s research.

A majority of American adults believe “the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crime,” with 59% of religious affiliated and 72% on religiously unaffiliated believing as such.

  • “White evangelicals are the only group with a majority saying that the death penalty deters people from committing serious crimes,” said Stephanie Kramer on Twitter, the author of Pew’s report.

Large majorities of Americans agree there is “some risk that an innocent person will be put to death,” with 76% of religious affiliated and 82% of religious unaffiliated believing so.

  • “However, White evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other group analyzed to say there are adequate safeguards in place to ensure that no innocent person will be put to death, with 3 in 10 taking this position,” reported Pew.
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