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Article
Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Rethinking the Role of Religion in Death Penalty Cases
Cornell Law Faculty Publications
  • Gary J. Simson, Cornell Law School
  • Stephen P. Garvey, Cornell Law School
Document Type
Article
Publication Date
7-1-2001
Keywords
  • Death penalty,
  • Capital punishment,
  • Religion-based peremptory challenges,
  • Establishment clause,
  • Free exercise clause,
  • Religion in capital cases,
  • First Amendment,
  • Religion clauses,
  • Batson v. Kentucky,
  • Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye,
  • Inc. v. City of Hialeah,
  • Lockett v. Ohio
Abstract

Religion has played a prominent role at various points of capital trials. In jury selection, peremptory challenges have been exercised against prospective jurors on the basis of their religion. At the sentencing phase, defendants have offered as mitigating evidence proof of their religiosity, and the prosecution has introduced evidence of the victim's religiosity. In closing argument, quotations from the Bible and other appeals to religion have long been common. During deliberations, jurors have engaged in group prayer and tried to sway one another with quotes from scripture.

Such practices have not gone unquestioned. Rather remarkably, however, the questions have almost always been framed and answered with little or no attention to the two clauses of the federal Constitution that speak directly and broadly to issues of religion: the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

This article seeks to give those clauses their due. The article is divided into four parts, each addressing the role that religion has played at a certain stage of the proceedings. In each part, we begin with a brief description of the way in which courts generally have analyzed the validity of particular uses of religion, and we then turn to the validity of those uses from the perspective of the Religion Clauses.

At times, careful consideration of the Religion Clauses only confirms the correctness of conclusions that the courts have reached by other routes. In various instances, however, it calls for important changes in the way in which capital trials are run.

Publication Citation
Published in: Cornell Law Review, vol. 86, no. 5 (July 2001).
Citation Information
Gary J. Simson and Stephen P. Garvey. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Rethinking the Role of Religion in Death Penalty Cases" (2001)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/stephen_garvey/14/