New Study: Most American Atheists Oppose the Death Penalty

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated are opposed to the death penalty. Most Americans favor the death penalty despite 78% of them saying there is some risk of innocent people being put to death. Last year, partly due to the pandemic, fewer people were executed in the United States than any other year in the past three decades. Yet, the death penalty for murder draws support from 60% of the adults, with 27% favoring it strongly.



Support for the death penalty varies by religion, with atheists and agnostics opposing it at about the same rate Americans overall support it. 65% of atheists and 57% of agnostics oppose the death penalty for murder convicts to some extent. They are the only groups on a religious basis that are more likely to oppose the death penalty than support it.

On the other hand, 75% of White Evangelicals and 73% of White non-evangelical Protestants support the death penalty. In addition, 50% of Black Protestants and 58% of Catholics also support the death penalty. Smaller religious groups such as the Jewish and Muslim Americans were excluded from the survey due to sample size limitations.

Views on the death penalty differ by race, age, and political orientation as well. On average, atheists are more likely to be younger and politically liberal than White Evangelicals. There is also a broader trend of lower support for the death penalty present among Black Americans. However, even after accounting for other traits, religious differences in support for the death penalty remain.

51% of atheists and 47% of agnostics also say that the death penalty is morally wrong, even for murderers. As for White Protestants, less than 22% of them feel the same way. In addition, 42% of Black Protestants and 36% of Catholics say the death penalty is morally wrong.

63% of American adults overall think that the death penalty does not deter serious crimes like murder. However, White Evangelicals are the only religious group to have a majority (51%) saying that the death penalty does prevent serious crimes. Other groups saying the death penalty does not deter crimes are as follows- Atheists (76%), Agnostics (81%), White non-evangelicals (59%), Black Protestants (71%), Catholics (65%).

The majority of every religious group agrees that there is a risk of an innocent person being put to death. 78% of American adults agree to this with atheists and agnostics. However, White Evangelicals are more likely than any other religious group to say that there is no risk of an innocent person being put to death.

68% of White Evangelicals, 53% of White non-evangelical Protestants, and 47% of Catholics believe that the death penalty is applied equally to all races. In contrast, 88% of Black Protestants say Black people are more likely than White people to be sentenced to death for similar crimes.

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