Race and Religion and the Death Penalty

Sometimes it is almost embarrassing to ask questions:

While 59 percent of white Catholics favored the death penalty, only 37 percent of Hispanic Catholics felt the same. Race appears to be a better predictor of one’s beliefs about capital punishment than religion is. Why?

This one is pretty easy. The more your community has to interact with the legal system in this country, the more your community knows about its shortcomings. And the more flaws you see in the application of justice, the less confident you are about the guilt of those who are convicted of crimes.

In other words, there’s no difference in how white and Latino Catholics are instructed about the morality of the death penalty. Despite that teaching, very significant percentages of each group still support the death penalty. They think the penalty sometimes fits the crime, despite what the Vatican has to say about the matter.

But there are more Latinos than whites who are concerned about innocent people getting put to death, and that pretty much explains the entirety of the difference in opinion between the two groups.

When it comes to the black community, only a tiny percentage of which is Catholic, this disparity in experience in the justice system overcomes the fact that they aren’t being formally indoctrinated by their religious instructors to oppose the death penalty.

It’s not that people don’t care what their priests say. It’s that fewer white people than people of color have the kind of firsthand experience of injustice within the justice system that leads people to doubt the guilt of people on death row.

Ask all these groups about how they feel about executing innocent people and you’ll probably find no difference of opinion at all.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.