Good Friday or Spring Holiday?

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.

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3 Responses to Good Friday or Spring Holiday?

  1. I’m a little at a loss to explain this one. Just because the state is separate from the church, that doesn’t mean we as people should have to split ourselves into two separate beings to exist in both. The truth is WE ARE BOTH. We are church and we are society… that’s why we set up society to reflect church (i.e. Good Friday being a holiday). If we had been only society and not church, we would only have Flag Day and Arbor Day.

    UGH. These things stress me out! But I had wondered about you went I read that story. Thanks for a personal perspective.

  2. I hadn’t heard of this, but my, what an interesting ramification of this whole move to secularize our culture. I am grieved that Good Friday and Christmas have suffered so much contempt in our culture. No one has ever complained about Halloween being called Halloween, for example. Of course, it is not a school or work holiday, either. But it does rival Christmas in retail sales. Apparently, celebrating darkness holds value in our culture, but redemption and hope are oppressive religious notions. Sad.

    And a small note that I’m sure you’re aware of, but the Constitution does not require separation of church and state. That phrase was taken from a private letter penned by Thomas Jefferson, and somehow made official canon of US policy.

    Great blog.

    • Dennis Bates says:

      Kathleen,

      I agree on your comment about the separation of church and state. I took several Constitutional Law courses in Law School and think the whole notion has been skewed badly by the Supreme Court. There are all kinds of reasons for that which I won’t go into here. I appreciate your comments. The Constitution only meant to forbid a state mandated religion such as the Church of England and to insure that anyone had the right to worship freely. How badly that has been twisted.

      Dennis

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