Religion Clause reports on a “reasonable accommodation” case that seems a bit unreasonable.
Tonia Thomas was a rental assistant at a resort property rental company in Panama City, Flori-duh. All employees were instructed to answer the phones by saying “Happy Holidays from Counts Oakes Resort Properties. How may I assist you?”
According to her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel:
Thomas objected to her supervisor and offered to say either “Merry Christmas” or to continue greeting callers the same way they are greeted throughout the year. She explained that her religious beliefs prevented her from contributing to the secularization of Christmas, and asked for an accommodation of her beliefs. On December 10, when the company president, Andy Phillips, came to see her, she politely reiterated her concern. Phillips then fired her for “insubordination” because she refused to say “Happy Holidays.” (source)
Although some religiously-minded individuals may have a problem with the “secularization of Christmas,” there is no principle in any Bible I have ever read that would prohibit anyone from saying “happy holidays.” Nevertheless, even if there were, it seems that Thomas suggested a reasonable compromise. She could have simply greeted callers “the same way they are greeted throughout the year.”
Of course, Mr. Phillips could have been a little bit cooler than firing someone a few days before Saturnalia, but in the past they used to throw unreasonable Christians to hungry lions. I’m sure that her imaginary space zombie god will somehow provide her with another equally challenging job answering the phone.
While the law provides that individuals religious beliefs must be accommodated, the law tempers that requirement by limiting accommodations to that which is “reasonable.” I would imagine that her employer wished to seem inclusive to people of all faiths, not just Christians, and thus wanted to greet callers without a presumption that they too would be Christian. Ms. Phillips seems like she wanted to use her employer’s telephones as a pulpit from which to push her own personal agenda, and I predict that her complaint to the EEOC will be denied.
I think that next year, I’ll tell my employer that I want to answer the phones saying “Io Saturnalia!” (pronounced “Yo Saturnalia”). My religious beliefs include a rationally-held belief that there was no Jesus, but if there was, all signs point to him being born on April 17 — and a historically-held religious belief that saying “Merry Christmas” perverts the true history of the holiday. Christmas is nothing more than a re-packaging of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia so that early followers of the cult of the carpenter guy would sign on to the new religion.
The poet Catullus describes Saturnalia as the best of days. It was a time of celebration, visits to friends, and gift-giving, particularly of wax candles (cerei), and earthenware figurines (sigillaria). The best part of the Saturnalia (for slaves) was the temporary reversal of roles. Masters served meals to their slaves who were permitted the unaccustomed luxuries of leisure and gambling. Clothing was relaxed and included the peaked woolen cap that symbolized the freed slave. A member of the familia (family plus slaves) was appointed Saturnalicius princeps, roughly, Lord of Misrule. (source)
By the way, that woolen cap was called a Phrygian cap and it sure looks a lot like Santa’s hat.
To Tonia Thomas, Andy Phillips, and all the little boys and girls out there in Satyricon-land, Io Saturnalia!