The American Death Penalty: It’s about misunderstanding the Bible
Rss Feed Image
I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
April 1, 2013
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Correctional Chaplain Florida's Death Row & Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella,Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed and for seventeen years a Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults.

The American Death Penalty: It’s about misunderstanding the Bible
By: Dale S. Recinella
Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida’s Death Row

About nine years ago, I was asked to present the points of my book about the Bible and the American death penalty on a panel at an international conference on capital punishment.

At the conclusion of my remarks, a very angry professor stood up and castigated me for dragging religion into the subject. “There is no need to talk about the Bible!” he energetically exclaimed. “Just tell them it’s barbaric and they should stop it!”

Fortunately, the panel moderator had spent a great deal of time in America’s Bible belt and was aware that the Bible belt is also America’s death penalty belt. He calmly replied to the apoplectic professor: “In America, you have to deal with the Bible if you want to end the death penalty.”

The role of the Bible in the history, existence and practice of the American death penalty is both insidious and pervasive.i A case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court, People v. Harlan, addressed the fact that jurors can be influenced to impose death sentences based upon the reading of Bible quotes during deliberations. That is only a small part of the story.

Prosecutors in America have been using Bible quotes to obtain death sentences from juries for years. “There is no indication that the instances of this practice are decreasing. The most popular scripture quotes to be used by prosecutors are those involving vengeance as justice.”ii

Just a few years ago, prosecutors in Florida argued their misinterpretation of Romans 13:4 to the jury to prove it is God’s will that the defendant be sentenced to death. He was. Good religious folk on death qualified juries are predisposed to accept the state’s misuse of the Bible in capital cases.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why the modern American death penalty is a Bible-belt phenomenon. The Bible-belt consists of those states which are predominantly Baptist, virtually synonymous with the eleven Confederate States plus Oklahoma and the four Border States, all of which allowed legal ownership of slaves. In its day, slavery was justified by the Christian Churches through so-called “biblical support.”

Now, the use of the death penalty in the U.S. is actually a geographic aberration, localized in the Bible belt, the former slave-holding states. 85% of the 1,317 state-level U.S. executions (from 1976 through 2012) occurred in that same Bible belt.iii Above and beyond that, the Bible-belt has hosted all twenty-two of the U.S. juvenile executions that have taken place since 1976.iv

Also, with the addition to the Bible-belt of just three more states--Arizona, Indiana and Ohio—over 92% of the 1,317 state-level U.S. executions (from 1976 through 2012) have taken place in just 14 of the 50 states.

More than two-thirds of U.S. jurisdictions, the other 36 states and the District of Columbia, are either not participating at all (17 with no executions in 36 years) or virtually not participating.

It is important to note the relationship between Catholic influence in the U.S. population and the occurrence of executions.

• As of the end of 2012, in the nineteen states that are the most Catholic (where Catholics constitute more than 21% of the population), the average number of executions over those 36 years was only 3.37 per state.

• In the nineteen states that are the least Catholic (where Catholics make up less than 16% of the population), the average number of executions per state over those 36 years was 29.79, almost 9 times as many per state.

• For the twelve states where Catholics are less than 10% of the population, the average number of executions per state over those 36 years was 38.75, 11.5 times the amount in states where Catholics exert the greatest influence.

In fact, at the end of 2012, the eight most Catholic states in the U.S. had a total, all combined, of only 2 executions in the prior 36 years.

☆ In 2007, New Jersey, the third most Catholic state in the union, became the first since 1976 to legislatively abolish the death penalty.

☆ New York, the fifth most Catholic state, ended it judicially in 2004. Neither state has had any executions in the last 36 years.

☆ In 2009, the sixth most Catholic state, New Mexico repealed the death penalty, with only 1 execution in 36 years.

☆ In 2011, Connecticut, the fourth most Catholic state abolished capital punishment with only 1 execution in 36 years.

Many of us may not like the fact that religion plays a major role in the use of the American death penalty.

But like it or not, the facts are the facts.

© Dale S. Recinella, Tallahassee, FL USA
All rights reserved. No reuse without permission.

i See, Recinella, Dale S., The Biblical Truth about America’s Death Penalty (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), referred to as The Biblical Truth. © 2004 Dale S. Recinella. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
ii The Biblical Truth, at p. 5.
iii Bible-belt Executions (from 1976 thru 2012): TX 492, VA 109, OK 102, FL 74, MO 68, GA 52, AL 55, NC 43, SC 43, LA 28, AR 27, MS 21, TN 6 and KY 3: Total 1,123 out of 1,317.
iv “Juvenile execution” refers to those executed for a crime committed while a minor. TX 13, VA 3, OK 2, MO 1, GA 1, SC 1, LA 1: Total of 22.

Upcoming Events:

Now I Walk on Death Row – NCJPM
          Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida Death Row
          Catholic Volunteer for Ministry to Families of the Executed

32nd Annual National Convocation of Jail & Prison Ministry
Building Bridges Not Walls
Hosted by Diocesan Council of Orlando’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul

May 19 – 21, 2013

Drury Inn & Suites
7301 West Sand Lake Road
Orlando, FL 32819      407.354.1101

For Information: Call 407.814.3869 or email


Now I Walk on Death Row – In Florida
          Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida Death Row

Conversion in the Year of Faith
Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council # 9236 of St. Andrew’s Parish & The Orlando Diocese/Office of Advocacy and Justice
PO Box 1800, Orlando, Florida 32801

Sunday April 21, 2013 11:30am – 3:30pm
St. Andrew Catholic Church
801 N. Hastings St.
Orlando, FL 32808

For information contact:
Deborah Stafford Shearer, Director
Diocese of Orlando Office of Advocacy and Justice
PO Box 1800, Orlando, Florida 32801
Ph. 407.246.4820 Fax. 407.246.4942 or email

I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

Your name and information will never be used or shared with anyone. We promise!

Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Monthly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
The Poor Clare Sisters
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.

This ezine edited by The Poor Clare Sisters of Spokane
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach