This Thanksgiving, many Americans were dismayed that large retailers were calling their employers in to work before midnight on Thursday to assist with Black Friday sales. Thanksgiving is a day of family, fun, and food and many did not like the fact that this precious, uniform day of rest was being cut short by encroaching work requirements.
In Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, centuries-old blue laws prevented retailers from opening on Thanksgiving day. The statutes, originally meant to prevent commerce, entertainment, and the sale of alcohol on Sundays were extended to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
While it is difficult to find a reason not to require that commerce shut down in celebration of annual holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the re-emergence of labor and religious calls for a uniform weekly day of rest in North America and Europe is troubling. On October 27, 2012, The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation released a statement entitled “The Importance of Sunday,” which call s for Orthodox and Catholic Christians to recover the theological significance of Sunday as “fundamental to rebalancing our lives.” The document decries the current non-stop worklife and describes Sunday as a unique Christian festival that should be a day of worship and family and less like an ordinary work day. According to the document, “Shopping, sports, and work squeeze out the chance for a day of worship or rest in the Christian sense. By abandoning Sunday worship we lose out on the regenerative powers that flow out of the liturgical assembly.”
At present, the European Sunday Alliance is working with a variety of religious and labor organizations to make a work-free Sunday standard across Europe.
Seventh-day Adventists, observant Jews, and many others have long experienced the benefits of a weekly rest day devoted to God and family and know first-hand how difficult it is to make the necessary employment and family arrangements to maintain a weekly day of rest from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. From a pragmatic perspective, it would be much easier if everybody celebrated the same day of rest, but those who are religiously mandated to celebrate a different day of the week could be significantly disadvantaged.
While each person should be able to observe a weekly rest day in accordance with his or her religious convictions, the rights of those who keep other rest days should also be respected. In a world of religious diversity coupled with a common system of of commerce, the institution of a common day of rest and its enforcement would necessarily require coercive methods to prevent individuals from carrying out interpersonal business activities, and place greater pressure on observers of other days of rest to violate their conscience by working on their rest days.
Respect each person’s weekly day of rest. But don’t legislate it.