The famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow advised lawyers that they should not pick jurors who had strong Calvinist religious beliefs about right and wrong because they have a harsh and unforgiving attitude. It should not come as a real surprise that new research supports his view.
A new study backs up Darrow’s advice, finding that belief in a vengeful God will lead a person to oppose programs that help prisoners re-enter society, while a person who believes in a loving and forgiving God is more likely to support those programs.
“Stronger feelings of religious forgiveness led to greater support for assisting offenders,” says the study of 386 random Missourians. “The people who had the stronger punitive picture of God were less likely to support transitional programs, things like substance abuse programs,” says Brett Garland, a professor at Missouri State University and an author of the study.
Past research echoes the Missouri findings. “Fundamentalists tend to be more punitive. They do believe in ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’” Monica Miller, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, tells Newsweek. Miller’s research found stronger support for the death penalty among those who take the Bible literally and among fundamentalists, who place more weight on the Old Testament than the New.
In Darrow’s time one did not have the option of picking non-religious people since they were unlikely to publicly declare their unbelief so Darrow advised defense lawyers as to which denominations were preferable.
In his 1936 essay for Esquire, Darrow predicted the views toward criminals and defendants that Guyton, the Methodist, and Moore, the Southern Baptist, would hold almost 80 years later. The guidance he gave defense attorneys for picking sympathetic jurors seems to remain solid.
“The Methodists are worth considering; they are nearer the soil. Their religious emotions can be transmuted into love and charity,” Darrow wrote. “If chance sets you down between a Methodist and a Baptist, you will move toward the Methodist to keep warm.”