Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Mark of the Beast

In recent news a man named Beverly R. Butcher Jr. is filing a lawsuit against Consol Energy on behalf of his religious beliefs. Consol Energy/Consolidation Coal Company had employed Butcher until after the company acquired a biometric hand-scanning device in order to keep track of employees time and attendance. Butcher wrote a letter to his employers describing his objection to the use of the hand-scanning device, which he said is “against his religious beliefs.” Butcher explained that the hand-scanning device is linked to the mark of the beast and the antichrist as explained in the book of Revelation, chapter 13, verse 16 and asked for an exemption to the use of this device based on his religious beliefs.

In response, the designers of the hand-scanning technology wrote a letter to “Whom it may Concern” in regards to the lawsuit filed against the company. In the letter the manufacturers assured that the said product does not assign the mark of the beast to its users. The letter also stated that, since the verse that Butcher referenced in the bible only mentions the Mark of the Beast on the right hand, users with these specific religious reservations should not have a problem with using their left hand to be scanned. Butcher, not satisfied with this explanation, since he had requested complete exemption from the hand-scanner, was led to retire. He was allegedly forced to retire, as his attorney might put it, at an earlier age than he had planned due to unfair treatment on the basis of his religious beliefs.

What is interesting about this case is that the lawsuit is not explicitly based on the first amendment. In fact the first amendment is not even mentioned in the description of the case. Consol Energy is being sued with the hopes of ordering an injunction to stop the company from discriminating based on religious belief. In addition, the lawsuit hopes to win Butcher some compensation for his forced early retirement from Consol. I think the heart of this issue touches on the free exercise clause of the first amendment, specifically Butcher’s ability to freely exercise religion. The question is, should Butcher have been exempt from this company policy because of his certain religious beliefs? Despite the fact that the verse in Revelation discusses only the mark of the beast in regards to the right hand and forehead, should Butcher’s interpretation of this being either hand allow him an exemption?

I could offer an opinion in either direction here. This case begs an interpretation based the ideas of accommodation and strict separation as discussed in cases such as McCollum v. BOARD OF EDUCATION. This situation is quite different but, in my opinion, Consol should have accommodated Butcher’s religious beliefs and allowed him to record times and such with a supervisor in place of any type of hand scanning. I believe the court should rule in favor of Butcher and grant him compensation. Even though the bible specifically mentions the right hand and forehead in regards to the mark of the beast, one’s religious convictions are often based on interpretation of a written statement. The court does not have the place to decide whether or not Butcher’s religious convictions and interpretations of the bible in regards to his own life are valid. In SHERBERT v. VERNER the court did not discriminate on religious belief or interpretation but accommodated based on a woman’s religious convictions and interpretation regarding the Sabbath day. The same should hold for Butcher’s case at hand.

However, I recognize that company policy is in place for a reason. The reason is partially to create organization and accountability within the company. The policy applies to all, and was not set in place to discriminate against one religious group or affiliation. In other words, it is a secular policy. Invoking the slippery slope argument, if this man is accommodated, what should follow? Soon the company may have to individually check in each person because of other religious convictions and the whole organized structure falls apart. I think this argument is weak, since this is a very specific request and there do not appear to be other specific religious convictions against hand scanning. In addition, this is a free exercise which does not cause harm to others but applies to the private sphere of one individual. Therefore, Consol should be made to accommodate based on this religious belief.

What do you think? Should Butcher be compensated for unfair treatment? Is it simply ridiculous that he would invoke this passage in the bible? Does the court have the right to decide that?


Liz L. said...

I believe that Butcher should be compensated for his religious beliefs. I am not at liberty to judge his religious beliefs; however, based on his constitutional right to freedom of religion, I have to respect them. His desire for another method of tracking hours of work does not break the law and is a reasonable request that has many different solutions (swipe card; punch in system).

Dan W said...

Clearly Butcher feels differently, but I fail to see how Butcher was forced into an early retirement based on his religious beliefs. Though perhaps the marking would somewhat resemble what was feared in the passage, the fact that the marking occurs on the opposite hand seems like a big deal. I believe the company has been more than reasonable and should not have to compensate Butcher. It is unfortunate that he feels that this is a violation of his free exercise but the scriptural basis for his belief does not convince me.

Kaela Diomede said...

I think that it would have it would have been accommodating for the employer to compromise with Butcher and find a more appropriate alternative to the hand scanning (such as signing in electronically, or directly with a present supervisor), but I do understand that this introduced system is company policy. I do know that companies have the capability to make their own exemptions, but this was clearly not a priority to the company. I do think Mr. Butcher could have used the other hand, which would have been more of a compromise, and not demarkation of religious beliefs, and its unfortunate that this caused him to retire early, but I do not see this as a violation of his free exercise, I think he easily could have used the left hand.

Dylan Smith said...

After considering other arguments, I'm not sure I feel this is still a violation of free exercise. If he quotes a verse from the bible and then deviates from the actual words of the verse, then can his argument really be valid? The only way I can see this being a violation of free exercise is if he argues that he should be able to interpret the bible as he pleases, and his interpretation includes both hands. If he argues that the government cannot judge interpretations, as I have argued above, than this may violate free exercise. I think I'm just frustrated that he would quote the bible but interpret it the way he did.