Evaluating candidates based on their religious views

Volokh, Eugene VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu
Fri Sep 18 09:34:41 PDT 2009

               Here's a story that gives a concrete example related to our earlier discussion.  This one involves a candidate for election, and I assume that there's no constitutional prohibition (judicially enforceable or not) on voters considering anything they please about this candidate.

But say that Mr. Foster was being considered for appointment to a position of roughly the prominence, authority, or duty of a mayor.  (Say, for instance, that state law provided for the city council to appoint a mayor pending a new election when the elected mayor dies in office.)  Would there be a constitutional problem - again, whether or not a judge could do anything about it - with the appointing or confirming officials' considering Mr. Foster's views in making the decision?  Could the officials properly only consider his views to the extent that he has specific scientific responsibilities, or could they also consider those views as (1) evidence of his general reasonableness, or (2) relevant to likely public perceptions of the city?



In an interview at his law office, [St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Bill Foster] talked about some of his beliefs and refused to talk about others.

"Dinosaurs are mentioned in Job<http://www.bible.ca/tracks/b-dinosaurs-mentioned-in-bible.htm>, so I don't have any problem believing that dinosaurs roamed the earth,'' he said, referring to the book of Job, which mentions the "behemoth." He said he believes dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, though most scientists say there is a gap of at least 60 million years between dinosaurs and mankind<http://paleobiology.si.edu/dinosaurs/info/everything/why.html>.

"If you look at all the data that are out there ... they all support the theory of evolution,'' said Peter Harries, an associate professor of paleontology<http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/faq.php> at the University of South Florida. "The only way the theory of evolution<http://evolution.berkeley.edu/> is not likely to be true is if you don't believe in the scientific method."

Rather than Darwin's theory of evolution, Foster accepts the Bible's Genesis account in which God created the world and all living things in six days<http://www.lighthouseoftruth.net/god_created_the_earth_and_all_living_things.html>.

Foster, a member of Starkey Road Baptist Church in Seminole, dismissed the suggestion that each of those "days" could represent a period of thousands of years.

"In the Genesis account, it's timed by the sun and the moon,'' he responded.

Normally, candidates in the Tampa Bay area are not asked about dinosaurs or whether they believe the world is billions of years old or thousands, as some creationists maintain. (Ford said billions, Foster declined to answer.)
[From earlier in the same piece.]

Is that relevant to the campaign for mayor of Florida's fourth-largest city?

"This city is trying to increase its employment base with respect to scientific organizations and trying to recruit scientific concerns to come here,'' said St. Petersburg architect Michael Dailey, who supports Kathleen Ford, Foster's opponent. "If our mayor has a belief system that basically rejects science, how can people take him seriously?"
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