Offer to hold a driver’s license without a photo for religious reasons rejected

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Stephen Butcher went to court arguing that driver’s license photos are the ‘mark of the beast’.

Stephen Butcher thinks driver’s license photos are the “mark of the beast”.

In fact, he is so firm in his belief that he sued the New Zealand Transport Agency, where he cited a thousand-year-old piece of papyrus, containing part of the New Testament of the Bible written in ancient Greek, as evidence of religious discrimination.

His main argument centered on the fact that he should be able to hold a valid New Zealand driving license without needing a photo of himself, his signature or a barcode on it.

But, the Human Rights Review Tribunal disagrees and this week denied Butcher’s request.

In his court submissions in September 2020, Butcher cited aspects of the Bill of Rights Act regarding freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions. without interference.

The piece of Papyrus 115 kept at the Oxford Ashmolean Museum in the UK which contains an extract from the New Testament written in ancient Greek.  Photo/HRRT
The piece of Papyrus 115 kept at the Oxford Ashmolean Museum in the UK which contains an extract from the New Testament written in ancient Greek. Photo/HRRT

He also claimed that there was no compelling road safety benefit to having a photo ID and that foreign drivers visiting New Zealand did not need to have a photo on their temporary permits.

However, at the heart of his religious objection was his understanding of a specific instruction in the book of Revelation which reads: “It requires wisdom: let anyone having understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

Butcher argued that the way a computer scans the photographs, signatures, and barcodes of a driver’s license into binary code creates a pattern that can be added together to create 666, aka “the mark of the beast.”

Butcher’s reading of the passage is based on a remnant of Papyrus 115 held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in the UK, which contains an extract from the New Testament written in ancient Greek.

Butcher reads “XIC” on the piece of papyrus as Roman numerals rather than Greek.

Stephen Butcher went to court arguing that the driver's license photos are the
Stephen Butcher went to court arguing that driver’s license photos are the ‘mark of the beast’.

He also adds or counts the numbers to reach 3 (1 + 0 + 1 + 1 + 0 + 0), rather than subtracting them as he thinks this is consistent with the instructions in the Book of Revelation. Number three, according to him, is the identity of the Antichrist.

The court called Professor Paul Trebilco, an expert in religious studies at the University of Otago who specializes in the Book of Revelation, to give evidence.

Trebilco said there was some historical discrepancy as to whether the mark of the beast was “666” or “616” due to New Testament copying errors over hundreds of years.

However, he said Butcher’s reading of the papyrus text as Roman numerals did not make sense because they were written in Greek.

He went on to point out that even though the letters were read as Roman numerals, they weren’t in the correct order to mean “666” or “616”.

Professor Trebilco described Butcher’s interpretation as “unique” and the assumptions behind his views as “idiosyncratic”.

The expert in religious studies, Professor Paul Trebilco, testified before the Tribunal.  Picture / University of Otago
The expert in religious studies, Professor Paul Trebilco, testified before the Tribunal. Picture / University of Otago

The court divided the issues raised by Butcher into three main areas: the meaning of religious belief and whether there is a duty to accommodate religious beliefs; whether these beliefs have been discriminated against; and if there has been discrimination, is it justified by law.

Representatives of Waka Kotahi NZTA and New Zealand Police were also called to give evidence.

Inspector Peter McKennie, director of operations at the National Police Centre, said that before the introduction of photo driver’s licenses it was relatively easy for a person to convince the police that they were someone ‘other.

He went on to say that it was laborious for police to verify that someone was giving false details and that investigations could involve going so far as to match police records of scars and tattoos or d take the person to have their fingerprints taken.

He said it all got better with easy access to roadside driver’s license photos.

Dan Jenkins, director of analysis and modeling at the Department for Transport, admitted that there was no direct link between a person’s ability to drive and having their photo on their driver’s license. conduct.

However, he testified that there is a proportion of repeat offenders who pose a serious risk to themselves or to other road users. In his opinion, faster and more reliable identification of these high-risk drivers would prevent collisions.

In 2014, a photo of a Cantabrian named Russell went viral after getting a New Zealand driver’s license while wearing a pasta strainer on his head.

Russell belonged to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – a deity who gained internet popularity for highlighting some of the exemptions granted to members of other religious groups.

As for Stephen Butcher, he obtained his first driver’s license in 1972, which was replaced in 1985 by what was called a “lifetime” or “synthetic” license.

The driving license of "Russell" went viral in 2014 when the ordained minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was allowed to wear a pasta strainer for official identification.  Photo / Provided
“Russell’s” driver’s license went viral in 2014 when the ordained minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was allowed to wear a pasta strainer for official identification. Photo / Provided

However, this was canceled in 1999 and replaced with the format we have today – which contains a photograph, barcode, organ donor status and class of license or license held by the driver.

For the past 20 years, Butcher has relied on police discretion in the Masterton campaign and said in evidence that he would appeal to a police officer’s oath of allegiance to the Queen, who is also the defender of the faith.

The ability to rely on police discretion ended in 2015 when Butcher’s wife received an offense notice for driving without a license. The policeman who arrested her asked her to hand over her keys.

Butcher said she was traumatized by the event and that continuing to drive by her risked the confiscation of her car.

Ultimately, the court found that the laws that Butcher claims to be discriminatory are framed in neutral terms.

“Others who share his objection to photo driver’s license requirements but not his religious belief are treated exactly the same.”

They said Butcher had failed to establish that he was disadvantaged by having to have a photo on his driver’s license and that if he had granted him that privilege, it would have to be offered to others and potentially jeopardize the integrity of the photo identification system.

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