But religion has no place in the selection of a city's administrators. Sadly, some members of the Anniston City Council do not subscribe to this basic tenet of municipal government.
The council erred — mightily — last Saturday when it interjected religion into an interview session for the vacant city manager position. One candidate, Roger Sawyer, was asked pointed questions about his faith and how it meshed with his desire to dive head-first into the oft-messy job that is supervising city operations.
"How are you going to deal with being the city manager and being a Christian?" Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson asked Sawyer.
Sawyer, the former production manager for Consolidated Publishing Co., which owns The Star, was then allowed to talk in detail about his faith. The other candidate to interview last Saturday, Richard Finn, a former city manager in Takoma Park, Md., was not subjected to similar religious queries.
That form of questioning immediately damaged the interview process. It also caused Councilman John Spain to say Councilman Ben Little sank to "an absolute new low" when Little further questioned Sawyer about his faith and qualifications.
Questions about a candidate's faith should never have been asked.
The facts are clear. Religious tests for office-holders are expressly forbidden in American government, a detail protected by the U.S. Constitution. The separation of church and state is a foundational part of democratic leadership, a principle for which Anniston's council should strive.
What's more, the religious beliefs of city manager candidates are not relevant to the interview process. It matters not where a candidate worships, or if he does. It matters not what God he prays to, or if he prays at all. And, as America saw during the last presidential campaign, allowing de facto religious tests into that arena — with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, for instance — only muddies and demeans the selection process.
That Robinson and the council followed this path is insulting to both the candidate and the procedure. It also creates a two-pronged problem for Robinson and the intent of his question.
Was Robinson giving Sawyer mayoral approval for his Christian beliefs? Or was he condescendingly questioning a man of faith's ability to exist with a council whose first year in office has been marred by several examples of un-Christian-like behavior?
It adds up to a sizeable, regrettable mistake by this council.
Anniston is a Bible Belt city with many residents of faith and houses of worship. Religion is embedded in many Annistonians' lives. But it should not be part of the selection process for Anniston's city manager.