Evaluating candidates based on their religious views
pfink at albanylaw.edu
Fri Sep 18 11:40:35 PDT 2009
Is there a differenced between a stated "belief" and an assertion of scientifc fact or accepted knowledge? Or is this too fine a point. Is there a difference between "belief" and "action." In another context a store clerk says, "I believe unmarried people should not have sex" but that it would not stop me from ringing up condoms at the checkout counter for people who I know are unmarried. Of the assistant DA says, "I belive Playboy is immoral and obscence" but as and Assitant DA I will not try to bring a grand jury indictment against the store selling it because the courts have ruled otherwise.
I am not sure if we can frame this distinction here -- between the "belief" that dinasaurs and humans "roamed the earth" togetherand acceptance of the reality that no scientist in the world thinks this statement of "belief" can be supported by any scientific evidence?
Alternatively, if someone "believes" something that is clearly not true -- such as 2+2 equals 3 -- does that belief indicate that they person is incapable of making rational decisions based on available evidence. If that is so, then Mr. Foster should not be appointed to an office of public trust because he is not capable of making a rational decision based on available evidence. He is not then being punished for his religous belief but for his inability to think and use evidence to decide issues that come before him.
Let me offer a hypo on this. A person who believes dinasaurs and humans roamed the earth and decides issues accoringly is in charge of the public parks. In excavating for a part a dinasaur skeleton is uncovered. The man stops all excavation and bans paleontologists from examining the find because he "believes" it may also distrub human graves or human remains which could be with the dinasaur bones.
Tongiht I will celebrate the "Birthday of the World" as 5770. I "believe" that world according to the Jewish calendar is 5770 years old. I know that in the scientific world this simply not so. I might "believe" the first; I will act on the second. If Mr. Foster can do that then he could be appointed to office; otherwise not.
Paul Finkelman, Ph.D.
President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law
Albany Law School
80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
paul.finkelman at albanylaw.edu<mailto:paul.finkelman at albanylaw.edu>
From: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu [religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Volokh, Eugene [VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu]
Sent: Friday, September 18, 2009 12:34 PM
To: 'Law & Religion issues for Law Academics'
Subject: Evaluating candidates based on their religious views
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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