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Response from Charles M. Kester

Discussion Question: Would an official Sunday “day of rest” alienate believers who observe a different day of worship?

The European Sunday Alliance — a network of 65 civil society organizations, trade unions and Churches— recently made a pitch for “work free Sundays” to the European Union’s Economic and Social Committee in Brussels. The newly formed Alliance argued that a common day of rest would result in healthier families, a more cohesive society, and a more balance lifestyle for everyone. Does this call for an official day of rest marginalize the millions of European Muslims, Jews, and Seventh-day Adventists who observe a day other than Sunday as their day of worship?

The short answer is "Yes." Many Muslims observe Friday as a holy day. Sabbath observers (including many Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, and Protestants) observe Saturday. Other Protestants, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Christians observe Sunday. Just about every religion, denomination or sect observes its own unique fast or feast day. My personal favorite happens to be the Feast of St. Wulfstan, which is a minor Anglican feast that occurs on January 19. I doubt that more than a few dozen people care about (or are even aware of) that particular feast. And, were I to be in a position to issue such decrees, I would not decree that all persons observe that feast day. Regardless of the merits of the theological arguments in favor of any particular day of observation, there are two things that should be clear whenever well-intentioned people attempt to impose their day of observation (or other religious tenet) upon persons who do not share that particular religious belief, as is the case here.

The first issue is a legal (or technically, "jurisprudential") issue. That issue is relatively simple. We have had this debate in the U.S. in the form of the so-called "Blue Laws." Those laws have, for the most part, now been abandoned. The reasons may be debated by sociologists and legal historians, but the ultimate message of this episode of American legal history is fairly clear – the State has no business dictating religious terms to the public. Although this might have been a novel concept in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century – the time of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson's famous Virginia Act for Religious Freedom – it is no longer novel, although it may sometimes be ignored as a matter of convenience or political strategy.

From a (U.S.) legal and historical perspective, such a proposal is of questionable validity. The history and laws of the European Union obviously differ, but not in a way that would support such a regulation. The Church was, at least arguably, an instrument of the State (and vice versa) in Europe since the conversion of Emperor Constantine the Great before the Battle of Milvan Bridge in 312 A.D. (and notwithstanding the famous Edict of Milan the following year). American efforts to use State power to enforce religious practice are relatively few and feeble compared with those found throughout European history. From an American legal and historical perspective, such a regulation is a bad idea, and there is nothing about the European experience that would cause that bad idea to improve as it crosses the Atlantic. So that raises the next question, if it is a bad idea why bother?

That brings me to the second point – the moral issue. Those of us who hold a faith that encourages or requires proselytizing or evangelism want to (and have a moral obligation to) spread the "gospel" or "good news" or "God's Word" or whatever label we place on the message that we preach. We seek – indeed, we are morally obligated to seek – converts. There is a good argument that the appropriate way to satisfy this moral obligation is to engage in behavior that maximizes the evangelistic appeal to the audience. The exact way that the evangelistic appeal is made may differ, but regardless of the method employed, the moral question is always the same – do one's actions encourage or discourage belief.

Undoubtedly, those who support this proposed E.U. regulation think they are doing the proper thing. While one might not doubt their sincerity, one must still question the effect. Does requiring everyone to observe Sunday as a day of rest advance anyone's religious cause? Will it create a convert?

One of the remaining vestiges of the Blue Laws in the U.S. is the closure of liquor stores on Sundays in most states. Does anyone seriously think that this "scheduling" promotes any form of religious belief? I would hazard the guess that to anyone thinking about purchasing (or attempting to purchase) liquor on a Sunday, the religious motives behind the regulation are either completely lost, or affirmatively resented. These regulations may be well-intentioned, but they are ineffective at best, and counter-productive at worst. Conversion at the point of a sword has never been an effective evangelistic tool, except in the most naïve sense.

Photo of Charles M. Kester

Author: Charles M. Kester

Managing Member, Kester Law Firm

Charles M. Kester is the managing member of the Kester Law Firm, with an active litigation practice in the areas of civil rights, labor and employment law, including religious discrimination and accommodation. He regularly appears before a wide range of state and federal agencies, as well as state and federal trial and appellate courts. Mr. Kester has published in legal journals and has lectured extensively on employment law issues in public and private employment. He is a member of numerous professional organizations and Bar Associations, including the National Employment Lawyers Association, and has served as an officer and Chair of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Arkansas Bar Association. Mr. Kester served as lead trial and appellate counsel in Sturgill v. UPS, which was featured in the November/December 2006 and January/February 2009 editions of Liberty.

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