Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Mormonism and Capital Punishment: A Doctoral Perspective, Past and Present
MORMONISM AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: A DOCTRINAL PERSPECTIVE, PAST AND PRESENT Martin R. Gardner On January 17, 1977, Gary Mark Gilmore's execution by a Utah firing squad ended an almost ten-year moratorium on capital punishment in the United States. The death penalty, at least in Utah, had again become a reality. Reaction to the Gilmore execution from the Mormon community indicated a general approval of the use of capital punishment in that case as well as a commitment to the institution of capital punishment itself. Numerous students interviewed at BYU defended the death penalty in terms of Mormon theology, believing that a clear church commitment to capital punishment exists. These defenses are not uncommon in Mormon culture generally.1 To understand such defenses it is important to examine not only what church leaders have said about the subject, but also what the Mormon people did about it. It seems less profitable to explore the old anti-Mormon claim that the Church or church members practiced extralegal capital punishment than to focus on how Mormon belief was expressed when Mormon legislators enacted secular capital punishment law. Since the capital punishment law in Utah was initially a product of Mormon lawmakers influenced by Mormon doctrine, an historical understanding of Utah law provides rich insights into nineteenth century Mormon thought about capital punishment. Present Utah law provides capital offenders, specifically those committing murder in circumstances justifying execution, with the option of death by hanging or death by firing squad. Utah is unique in its use of the firing squad, indeed, in its use of an execution mode which actually spills the blood of the offender. Existence of the firing squad solely in Utah is no coincidence but instead is a Martin R. Gardner is an associate professor of law at the University of Nebraska. He received his B.S. and J.D. from the University of Utah. The author is indebted to the Research Council of the University of Nebraska for financial assistance, and to Michael Homer, a law student at the University of Nebraska College of Law, for helpful comments.