The For Whom The Bells Toll project invites people of faith to publicly express opposition to executions and to pray for all of those impacted in the aftermath of murder. We alert faith communities, leaders and individuals of any religion and denomination to scheduled executions in the United States, and provide opportunities for action in partnership with Death Penalty Action.
This public witness can consist of any of the following actions:
* For communities with bells, solemnly toll your bells for two minutes on the day of an execution in the United States. Ideally, toll your bells at the time of the execution, or otherwise chose a time that is convenient and meaningful. Note that execution dates and times vary by state/time zone and are available in the schedule link below.
* If your place of worship does not have a bell, you can hang a black drape outside the doors of the building on the day of the execution, tie black ribbons outside the building, or put some other sign in a publicly visible area. Use our provided graphics (download link is below) to print your own sign, or order one or more signs from us through the contact on this page. Display signs during the week of scheduled executions as an act of protest and a reminder to include impacted parties in your prayers.
* Share the meaning of your actions in bulletins or other publications in an effort to educate members of your faith community and local media. Find sample text you can use here.
* Add a special prayer at services the weekend prior to scheduled executions, praying for an end to the death penalty and for healing for the families and friends of murder victims, the person being executed and his/her family, friends and legal teams, for those in the courts, government, law enforcement and corrections professions carrying out the law, the media and for our communities.
Abolitionist Action Committee
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)
Clergy United Against the Death Penalty
Concrete Connections INC.
Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes of Fond Du Lac, WI
Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP)
Grace Presbyterian of Tuscaloosa, AL
Ithaca Catholic Worker
Justice and Mercy Ministry of Murphy, NC
L'Chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty
Ohio Council of Churches
Pax Christi USA
Red Letter Christians
South Carolinians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (SCADP)
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church of Oklahoma
St. Francis Xavier of Kansas City
St. Susanna Pax Christi of Needham, MA
Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
The history of tolling bells:
The tolling bells will be a reminder to all who hear them that all of us are diminished by continuing acts of state-sponsored murder. The churches, monasteries, abbeys, mosques, temples and synagogues that join in this effort will go a long way toward stopping the death penalty in this country. The campaign will continue until the death penalty is abolished in this country.
Throughout history, bells have been used to warn people of dangers such as marauders or approaching storms. Bells have been rung to celebrate happy occasions such as weddings and tolled to mark sorrowful occasions such as deaths. Bells have been tolled to gather village residents for meetings. In 1945, many church bells tolled to announce the end of World War II.
The history of the program:
The idea of ringing bells on the day of an execution was developed when Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia heard about Jaime Cardinal Sin of the Philippines encouraging Catholic churches in the Philippines to toll their bells in response to the execution of a Filipino citizen. Starting on November 9, 1999, Bishop Sullivan encouraged all churches in his diocese to toll their bells on the evening of every execution until the death penalty was abolished in the United States.
Sister Dorothy "Dot" Briggs founded a national program in the 1990's in conjunction with Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). With Sister Dot's blessing, another group, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (1997-2008) took responsibility for informing participants and promoting the campaign. In 2009 the effort was taken on by the now defunct People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. In 2022, Death Penalty Action revived the project.