Last updated on: 9/20/2021 | Author: ProCon.org

Is the Death Penalty Immoral?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Pew Research Center, in a June 2, 2021 article, “Most Americans Favor the Death Penalty Despite Concerns about Its Administration,” available at pewresearch.org, stated:

“[S]upport for the death penalty is strongly associated with a belief that when someone commits murder, the death penalty is morally justified. Among the public overall, 64% say the death penalty is morally justified in cases of murder, while 33% say it is not justified. An overwhelming share of death penalty supporters (90%) say it is morally justified under such circumstances, compared with 25% of death penalty opponents.”

June 2, 2021

Megan Brenan, Research Consultant for Gallup, in a June 23, 2020 article, “Record-Low 54% in U.S. Say Death Penalty Morally Acceptable,” available at news.gallup.com, stated:

“A record-low 54% of Americans consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable, marking a six-percentage-point decrease since last year. This finding, from Gallup’s May 1-13 Values and Beliefs poll, is in line with polling last fall that showed decreased public support for the death penalty and a record-high preference for life imprisonment over the death penalty as a better punishment for murder…

Gallup has measured Americans’ beliefs about the moral acceptability of the death penalty and numerous other social issues each May since 2001.

This year, 40% of U.S. adults think the death penalty is morally wrong, the highest in Gallup’s 20-year trend. The high point in the public’s belief that the death penalty is morally acceptable, 71%, was in 2006. That year and again in 2007, it topped the list of issues rated for moral acceptability.

The latest decrease in the public’s tolerance for the death penalty is largely owed to political liberals and moderates. While two-thirds of conservatives still consider it to be morally acceptable, moderates (56%) and liberals (37%) are at their lowest levels since 2001.”

June 23, 2020

PRO (yes)

Pro

Benjamin Zober, JD, Rabbi and former Assistant Ohio Public Defender in the Death Penalty Division, in a Sep. 20, 2020 article, “The Death Penalty Is Immoral. It Is Murder,” available at thisisreno.com, stated:

“‘Thou shalt not murder.’ (Ex. 20:13) It is so simple, and yet is misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misapplied. Murder is calculated, unjustified and intentional taking of life. When we, under the supposed color of law, deliberate, decide, and plan the purposeful extinguishing of human life, we commit murder. The death penalty is murder…

We are commanded, ‘justice, justice, shall you pursue.’ (Deut. 16:20) We cannot do this by taking lives, acting in anger, or vengence. or by creating more bloodshed, trauma, and pain…

Every life if sacred and deserves dignity. When one life is devalued, all are devalued. There is a world in every person, every life — perhaps the world of someone who committed a crime, but nonetheless the world of a father or a son, a mother or daughter, sister or brother, or friend. ‘Anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.’ (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).”

Sep. 20, 2020

Pro

Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg Opinion columnist, Senior Editor at National Review, and Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in a Dec. 17, 2020 article, “The Wrong Way to Fight the Death Penalty,” available at bloomberg.com, stated:

“The government does not need to kill any of these people [on death row] to keep everyone else safe from them. That’s reason enough, in my view, not to do it. To act with the precise intent to cause someone’s death, rather than to protect others from his aggression, is immoral. If you’d prefer more theological language, it usurps God’s lordship over life. Legislatures at the state and federal level ought to end capital punishment.”

Dec. 17, 2020

Pro

Semon Frank Thompson, Jr., former Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, stated the following in his Sep. 15, 2016 article “What I Learned from Executing Two Men,” available at nytimes.com:

“As superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, I planned and carried out that state’s only two executions in the last 54 years I used to support the death penalty. I don’t anymore…

I was charged with executing two inmates on the penitentiary’’ death row, Douglas Franklin Wright and Harry Charles Moore…

Regardless of their crimes, the fact that I was now to be personally involved in their executions forced me into a deeper reckoning with my feelings about capital punishment. After much contemplation, I became convinced that, on a moral level, life was either hallowed or it wasn’t. And I wanted it to be…

Since I retired from corrections in 2010, my mission has been to persuade people that capital punishment is a failed policy. America should no longer accept the myth that capital punishment plays any constructive role in our criminal justice system. It will be hard to bring an end to the death penalty, but we will be a healthier society as a result.”

Sep. 15, 2016 - Semon Frank Thompson, Jr.

Pro

Bryan Stevenson, JD, Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and Founder-Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, in his article “Close to Death: Reflections on Race and Capital Punishment in America,” from Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case (2004), wrote:

“Ultimately, the moral question surrounding capital punishment in America has less to do with whether those convicted of violent crime deserve to die than with whether state and federal governments deserve to kill those whom it has imprisoned.

The legacy of racial apartheid, racial bias, and ethnic discrimination is unavoidably evident in the administration of capital punishment in America. Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.

Embracing a certain quotient of racial bias and discrimination against the poor is an inexorable aspect of supporting capital punishment. This is an immoral condition that makes rejecting the death penalty on moral grounds not only defensible but necessary for those who refuse to accept unequal or unjust administration of punishment.”

2004 - Bryan Stevenson, JD

Pro

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in an Apr. 9, 2007 website section titled “The Death Penalty: Questions and Answers,” offered the following:

“It [capital punishment] is immoral in principle, and unfair and discriminatory in practice… No one deserves to die. When the government metes out vengeance disguised as justice, it becomes complicit with killers in devaluing human life and human dignity.

In civilized society, we reject the principle of literally doing to criminals what they do to their victims: The penalty for rape cannot be rape, or for arson, the burning down of the arsonist’s house. We should not, therefore, punish the murderer with death… Capital punishment is a barbaric remnant of uncivilized society.”

Apr. 9, 2007 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Pro

John Dear, Jesuit Priest from the Society of Jesus, in a June 17, 2008 National Catholic Reporter article titled “Abolish the Death Penalty Now!”, wrote:

“We, like Jesus, should feel free to side with the condemned, forgive those who hurt us, who injure or kill those we love, and in this way put an end to wheel of violence that keeps going around. And as Catholic Christians we should feel free to stand with the bishops and utter: the death penalty is immoral, evil and sinful.”

June 17, 2008 - John Dear

Pro

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), stated the following in its Jan. 24, 2017 policy position, “Death Penalty,” available at jspan.org:

“It is the position of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network to oppose the death penalty as it is currently applied in the United States and to press for the immediate abolition of capital punishment…

Our position is compelled by our mission. For some of us, our position is compelled by a moral imperative, our belief that the death penalty is immoral and constitutes an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment that is at odds with our best traditions, fosters a culture of violence, and teaches our children the wrongheaded lesson that the way to settle scores is through violence, even to the point of taking a human life.”

Jan. 24, 2017 - Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN)

CON (no)

Con

Jenna Ellis Reeves, JD, attorney, in a July 30, 2019 article, “The Moral Case for the Death Penalty,” available at washingtonexaminer.com, stated:

“Justice is required from a legitimate society that acts ethically. We have a justice system for a reason: to promote good and restrain evil. A legitimate society protects and preserves individual rights, and when one person substantially and harmfully infringes on another’s rights, government has legitimate authority to designate that conduct as criminal and seek to prevent it and punish it where it does occur. Our criminal justice system is designed for this purpose. It also includes the important element of restitution or victim compensation.

Thus, when people are convicted (importantly, after being afforded complete due process) of committing wrongful, criminal acts, then society must impose justice…

Meaningful justice in this instance can be the imposition of the death penalty…

Our society is right to value human life. Every human being is made in the image of God and distinct from all other creation and life. Because we value human life, we also value justice for the wrongful taking of human life. Use of the death penalty is the most severe punishment government may impose and certainly we do not want to impose it on the truly innocent (those wrongfully convicted), in disparate proportionality, or out of vengeance.

But a morally upright society legitimately exercising meaningful justice will do exactly what the attorney general did: promote good and restrain evil.”

July 30, 2019

Con

Edward Feser, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College, and Joseph M. Bessette, PhD, Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics at Claremont McKenna College, stated the following in their July 21, 2016 article “Why the Death Penalty Is Still Necessary,” available at The Catholic World Report website:

“[W]e reserve the death penalty in the United States for the most heinous murders and the most brutal and conscienceless murderers. This is not, as some critics argue, a kind of state-run lottery that randomly chooses an unlucky few for the ultimate penalty from among all those convicted of murder. Rather, the capital punishment system is a filter that selects the worst of the worst…

Put another way, to sentence killers like those described above to less than death would fail to do justice because the penalty – presumably a long period in prison – would be grossly disproportionate to the heinousness of the crime. Prosecutors, jurors, and the loved ones of murder victims understand this essential point…

Perhaps most importantly, in its supreme gravity it [the death penalty] promotes belief in and respect for the majesty of the moral order and for the system of human law that both derives from and supports that moral order.”

July 21, 2016 - Edward Feser, PhD Joseph M. Bessette, PhD

Con

Antonin Scalia, JD, Justice of the US Supreme Court, in a May 2002 First Things article titled “God’s Justice and Ours,” wrote

“While my views on the morality of the death penalty have nothing to do with how I vote as a judge, they have a lot to do with whether I can or should be a judge at all. To put the point in the blunt terms employed by Justice Harold Blackmun towards the end of his career on the bench,  when I sit on a Court that reviews and affirms capital convictions, I am part of ‘the machinery of death.’ My vote, when joined with at least four others, is, in most cases, the last step that permits an execution to proceed. I could not take part in that process if I believed what was being done to be immoral…

In my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty-and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.”

May 2002 - Antonin Scalia, JD

Con

Bruce Fein, JD, constitutional lawyer and general counsel to the Center for Law and Accountability, in an American Bar Association’s website section titled “Individual rights and Responsability – The Death Penalty, but Sparingly,” (accessed June 17, 2008), wrote:

“The crimes of rape, torture, treason, kidnapping, murder, larceny, and perjury pivot on a moral code that escapes apodictic [indisputably true] proof by expert testimony or otherwise. But communities would plunge into anarchy if they could not act on moral assumptions less certain than that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west.

Abolitionists may contend that the death penalty is inherently immoral because governments should never take human life, no matter what the provocation. But that is an article of faith, not of fact, just like the opposite position held by abolitionist detractors, including myself…

The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense, and thus subject even to butchery to satiate human gluttony. Moreover, capital punishment celebrates the dignity of the humans whose lives were ended by the defendant’s predation.”

June 17, 2008 - Bruce Fein, JD

Con

WithChrist.org, a Christian ministry, in its website section titled “Capital Punishment – Death Penalty,” (accessed Jan. 24, 2017), stated:

“The Death Penalty is moral and just. Judicial death for the purpose of maintaining justice or righteousness is well established in human history. However, the rise of death penalty executions in the United States against a backdrop of liberalism has triggered protests from various anti-capital punishment factions. Often shouting the loudest are liberal religionists and clergy who erroneously claim to speak for God. These folks are grossly confused and seriously wrong.”

Jan. 24, 2017 - WithChrist.org

Con

Adrian Vermeule, JD, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Cass R. Sunstein, JD, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, in a Mar. 2005 Stanford Law Review article titled “Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? Acts, Omissions and Life-Life Tradeoffs,” wrote:

“Defenders of capital punishment can be separated into two different camps. Some are retributivists. Following Immanuel Kant, they claim that for the most heinous forms of wrongdoing, the penalty of death is morally justified or perhaps even required.

Other defenders of capital punishment are consequentialists and often also welfarists. They contend that the deterrent effect… is significant and that it justifies the infliction of the ultimate penalty. Consequentialist… tend to assume that capital punishment is (merely) morally permissible, as opposed to being morally obligatory…

We suggest… that on certain empirical assumptions, capital punishment may be morally required, not for retributive reasons, but rather to prevent the taking of innocent lives. In so saying, we are suggesting the possibility that states are obliged to maintain the death penalty option.”

Mar. 2005 - Adrian Vermeule, JD Cass R. Sunstein, JD