Considering a Candidate’s Religion:

The St. Petersburg Times reports:

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, 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….

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.

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.)

Foster’s position: “How does my knowledge of scientific theory impact my ability to rationally govern the city of St. Petersburg? It’s completely irrelevant.” The position of “St. Petersburg architect Michael Dailey, who supports Kathleen Ford, Foster’s opponent”: “This city is trying to increase its employment base with respect to scientific organizations and trying to recruit scientific concerns to come here…. If our mayor has a belief system that basically rejects science, how can people take him seriously?”

Should we as voters consider such matters in deciding whether to vote for someone? If the position were appointed, but had roughly the same prominence, authority, and duties — imagine, for instance, that a city council is entitled to appoint a mayor pending a new election when the elected mayor dies or resigns, and Mr. Foster is being considered for such an appointment — would it be proper for politicians to consider this? Whether or not an individual voter’s decision as to this is proper, should opinion leaders try to urge a social norm of considering or not considering such matters? (I’m not asking specifically about whether there’s any constitutional or legal barrier to such consideration; you can of course feel free to comment on that, but my question is more about wise policy and a sort of democratic ethics, not about law.)

Note that I’ve deliberately pointed to a situation in which the person is being considered for an office that doesn’t inherently involve much science or science policy. The question then is (chiefly) whether it’s proper to consider a person’s views about matters such as dinosaurs living on Earth at the same time as humans as (1) probative of the person’s general reasonableness, and as (2) potentially embarrassing for the city before some important constituency.