Religious Liberty and the Calendar

Douglas Laycock dlaycock at
Sun Mar 4 19:12:49 PST 2012

The calendar issues are hard. Very often, there is no good solution. 

In the recent Texas case, involving small numbers of athetes, fans, and games, and an opposing team that was willing to reschedule, the choice to reschedule seems easy. The TAPPS resistance to rescheduling seemed to reflect either bureaucratic intransigence or more active intolerance, and the comments reported in the Times seemed to to tilt toward the latter. 

A third possibility that I had not earlier considered is that the organization has come to think of itself as just an association of Christian schools, free to act on Christian premises. That is not how it holds itself out, and that view of the organization seems far removed from its primary functions, but that may be how the Board has come to think of it. 

The larger problem is that the calendar is fundamentally and inescapably Christian. Sunday is the day when the fewest government services function and when the fewest businesses are open. Jews and Sabbatarian Christains are secondarily protected; Saturday is the day when the next fewest things are open.

The academic calendar in particular is arranged so that classes never meet on Sunday, and therefore never on Easter, and there is a long holiday at Christmas (for churches on the Latin calendar -- not so good for Christians on the Orthodox calendar). So the principal day of Christian worship and its two principal holy days are always covered.

The main problem is Saturday and Sunday. Those two days are now filled with a vast array of activities for which people need to be off work in order to watch or participate  -- athletic and recreational events of all kinds; weddings, graduations, and other ceremonies; meetings and conferences; etc., etc. Some of these events involve religiously diverse participants. 

Sometimes the resulting conflicts have no good solution. Some of these events could not occur at all if they were not on the weekend. Some involve thousands of people, many with travel reservations, and venues reserved months or years in advance. So sometimes accommodation is simply not feasible. I think we all understand that. Other times it is. And I think we nearly all understood that in the Texas case.

I would argue that we  should solve these problems where we can, and that we not start the discussion by assuming that the calendar is neutral and that only the religious minorities are asking for special treatment. The rest of us have already gotten special treatment.

The calendar is set up for the convenience of the majority. That was a majority defined by religion when the current weekend emerged. Today that majority may be more of a coalition that includes the secular.  But however we define the shifting majority that controls the calendar, it blinks reality to think it is neutral.
Douglas Laycock
Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law
University of Virginia Law School
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA  22903

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