By: Dennis Bates
The Davenport, Iowa, Civil Rights Commission took it upon itself to change the name of Good Friday to Spring Holiday or some other equally bland moniker so it didn’t violate the Constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state. Davenport is my hometown and I still live near it, so this story had personal interest.
As far as anybody can tell, the Davenport Commission’s edict about the name change was an isolated, unsanctioned action quietly validated in a memo to the various city offices. The city council itself was not consulted. It might have been missed entirely or quietly ignored had it not been for concerns raised by several members of the local Police Department.
Before you shower blessings on them, which may be well deserved for lots of reasons, it is important to understand these specific concerns of the whistle-blowing cops. The contract between the police union and the city calls for a number of paid holidays. Obviously, some patrolmen have to work regardless, but if they work a holiday they either get premium pay or another day of in lieu of the holiday they had to work.
One of the paid holidays in the police union’s contract is Good Friday and it is specifically called that in the contract. There is no paid holiday called Spring Holiday. The question then became whether police would be entitled to an in lieu of day or premium pay if the day in question wasn’t on the contractual list of paid holidays.
I don’t know if the discussions ever got this far, but the arguments pro and con would no doubt go something like this:
There is no entitlement to special pay provisions for anything called Spring Holiday because it is not one of the specific holidays listed in the police union contract with the city. Therefore, all work performed on anything called by that name would be business as usual, and employees would be compensated just as they would be for any other normal day.
The contra argument is that no matter what the day is called by the local Commission in a decision backed by dubious authority, the employees are entitled to holiday pay considerations for the day the rest of the Christian world calls Good Friday. In other words, you can’t take away a holiday merely be changing its name. At the very least that would amount to a breach of contract or an unfair labor practice. It could also set a very dangerous precedent by allowing for similar actions by any government or quasi government agency in the future.
Ultimately, it appears that the name change will not be allowed or at least not recognized, and Good Friday will remain Good Friday. The rationale for doing this has little to do with the sacred nature of the day or even to principles of contract and labor law. The rationale went something as follows: Good Friday, like Christmas, has become a widely recognized generic term that really has no religious significance. It is merely the day two days before the Easter Bunny comes.
Let me make it clear that I am not advocating that Good Friday or any other specific day be a holiday with pay. I have mixed feelings about that. I don’t ever remember getting Good Friday off as a paid holiday and that didn’t affect my reverence for or observance of the day one way or the other.
I also think the city administrator had a valid point about the generic nature of most holidays that once had some sort of religious significance, even if he made his comment with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. However, it doesn’t make me feel any better that the new standard appears to be that it’s okay to pay people for holidays, even religious holidays, as long as they don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.
That strikes me as rewarding people for religious apathy, and I think that’s sad.