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Are known atheists more likely to be convicted of violent crimes?

This question came to me after watching a forensics show recently. This lady in Atlanta had been killed and the DA had a pretty strong case against her husband. One of the husband's good friends (whom he owed money to) was also killed. The husband said the friend had came into his house (thinking it empty) to rob him for the debt and surprised the wife, so he killed her, then husband came in and killed friend in self defense. Both men were bookies, by the way.

One of the things introduced in the trial by the prosecution was the idea that the couple was having big problems, including their difference of religion. She was a Christian with "very strong feelings" about her spirituality. He was atheist. Again, the prosecution already had a good case without this tidbit.

What stood out to me was the jury deliberation time. They came back with a guilty in 45 minutes. That's awful damn fast. Do you think the jury just thought "sure he's guilty because atheists have no morals"? Seemed like it was at least a contributing factor.

So, if one of us was on trial for murder or some other violent crime, do you think it would sway a jury to "guilty" due to our lack of religion?

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Being an atheist is so unrelated to one's potential for violence and criminal behavior. People force that connection based on the records of infamous atheists like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Of course they is an enormous historical record of religious figures committing atrocities as well, and atheists who exemplify virtuosity, and religionists who exemplify virtuosity. This quote sums it up perfectly:

"There will always be good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Steven Weinberg, Nobel prize-winning physicist

All evidence suggests exactly the opposite. I think only 2% in prisons identify as "non-religious" or "atheist."

James, it's actually much smaller.  0.07% of atheists in prison, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Thanks, Pat.

But I heard somewhere that it's rewarding for a prisoner to ´find jeebus´: it gets you more privileges and earlier release. So that could influence the statistics.

Charles Colson, of Nixon-era Watergate infamy, found jeebus while in prison and started an organization to reward incarcerated folk, including kids, who find jeebus.

The issue has been taken to court, by the ACLU I think.

I heard of one case the jeebus people lost.

Bias in favor of religious conversion wouldn't surprise me in the least, Chris, and it's one more finger on the scales we have to deal with.

Pat, thanks for the information and the reference. 

Unfortunately the majority of people, at least in America, seem to be Christian. I remember in Sunday school, how they would warn us of the evil people in the world, mainly those without our view of gawd. So there is a good chance of being convicted of any crime if not only the judge but most of the jurors are religious and view you as evil. 

When I was in Catholic schools (for which I don't thank my dad who paid to put his five kids there) I often heard nuns say the purpose of discipline, such as fasting, was to strengthen us for attacks by the Church's enemies.

Does saying that to kids increase tendencies toward paranoia later in life?

It always amuses me that when an attorney sees a client in jail when the accused miscreant is first brought in, they have nothing about them to suggest religious beliefs, though they may admit or deny the charges. Then the jailhouse chaplains start to work on them. By the time they are brought before the judge, they wear big crosses and probably think, deep down, If that Christian judge sees this cross around my neck he will spare my own. It doesn't work because the judges have confronted the scumiest people on earth and heard every story in the book, and some of those people wore crosses, too. I've had them give a client more time under such circumstances, though of course I cannot read minds and tell anyone what the judge thought of the cross. Doesn't it all boil down to one thing and one thing only: if a religion allows forgiveness for any "sin," no matter how heinous, what is to stop miscreants from committing increasingly horrifying crimes: the clerics always say one may only be forgiven if one confesses with sincere repentance and a promise of rectitude, but, hey, situations arise because of the weather.

If an uneducated jury leans in favor of a believer rather than an atheist in any sort of legal proceeding, one of two things have to happen.  Either:

  1. The jury needs to be educated about atheists or
  2. Those jurors who are biased against atheists should be removed from the panel.

Granted that Choice One above is probably not practical in a trial, though a creative attorney might be able to interject facts about his client's atheism which could turn the case in his favor.  There is the further complication, of course, of the belief or lack of belief on the part of the representing lawyer as well, which the accused would have to deal with well before proceedings were underway.

The second choice I think may be more functional.  Jury selection is supposed to be about rooting out biases which may hamper an objective decision.  I can see no reason why asking jurors about their attitudes toward those who have no religious belief should be off the table and dismissing candidates for that reason ... though in some cases and locations, finding people with no bias against atheists might be more than a bit difficult!

And on top of everything else, such actions might help to get the idea across that atheists are HUMANS, just like everybody else.

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