In November 2011 we had the story about Georgia factory worker Billy E. Hyatt, who refused to wear a badge that said "666 Days Without An Accident." He was fired, but basically claimed that his soul was more important than his job -- apparently he really, truly thought that if he pinned the badge on, then Satan would have burst upward though the floor, spurting flame and laughing maniacally, and dragged him off to hell. (You have to wonder how he explained that this didn't happen to all of the hundreds of other workers who were cheerfully wearing the Mark of the Beast for the day.)
Hyatt, incidentally, was eventually rehired with back pay, after a court found that the company he worked for had infringed upon his religious freedom.
Now, though, we have federal law involved, and you have to wonder how this will play out.
Just last week, Clarksville (Tennessee) maintenance worker Walter Slonopas quit his job and is saying he will refuse to file his taxes after receiving a W-2 form stamped with the number 666. [Source] Slonopas, a born-again Christian (as if I even needed to mention that), said that the choice was go to work, or go to hell.
"If you accept that number, you sell your soul to the devil," he said in an interview with The Tennessean.
Interestingly, this isn't Slonopas' first encounter with the Number Of Evil. When he was hired in April 2011, and was given a number to use to clock in, he was supposed to be given the number 668, but the human resources department at his company (Contech Casting, Inc.) miswrote it as 666. Slonopas complained, and was reissued a new number.
Man, Satan must really want this guy.
Unlike in the Hyatt case, Slonopas says that he doesn't want his job back, because if he took it it would appear that he valued his job more than his faith. "God is more important than money," he said, and added that he was sure that god would take care of him and his wife until he could find a new job.
As usual, I'm of two minds as to how to respond to all of this. On the one hand, I'm all for the basic rule of "don't be an asshole." Don't go out of your way to upset people, just on principle; respect others' rights to think differently than you do.
But there comes a time, I think, that people have to stop caving in to the crazy demands of zealots that everyone has to handle their Bronze Age mythology with kid gloves, that we all have to act as if it were true. When will we start simply demanding that people act rationally? "I'm sorry, Mr. Slonopas, if you don't file your taxes, you will be fined, just like any other American -- just because your W-2 was stamped with a number that gives you the heebie-jeebies doesn't mean that superstition trumps US tax law."
But my fear is that we, as a society, are still too afraid of religion to let that happen. Courts, although designed to be as fair as possible, are run by humans and are subject to cultural and societal pressures. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that any challenge to Mr. Slonopas' stance in the legal system will be found in his favor, on the basis of "religious freedom."
Which, despite my general "don't be an asshole" philosophy, leaves me feeling like this: