Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Sanity Break for our Fundie Observers

I came across an instructive article tonight at The Smirking Chimp, and have to say that I couldn't agree more!

Here's how Ted Rall's piece on taking religion OFF the calendar begins:

We are a secular nation. We enjoy the constitutional right to exercise any religion--or none whatsoever. So why is Christmas a federal holiday?

The U.S. has no national religion. Yet Christians get special consideration. Aside from Christmas, they also get the quasi-Christian holiday of Thanksgiving. Financial markets are closed on both of those, plus Good Friday.

Devotees of other faiths must ask their employers for time off. Jews aren't supposed to work on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu'ot, or the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover. They have to take up to 13 days off from work each year, more than most employers offer.

The message to Jews and other non-Christians is plain: you are second-class citizens. Separation of church and state is a fraud. You wanna practice your faith? Do it on your own time.

You might think that the government's official embrace of Christmas is a cultural relic of America's puritan past. But you'd be mistaken. For nearly 100 years, Christmas was not on the calendar of federal holidays. On December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the new U.S. constitution, Congress was in session. Ulysses Grant made it a federal holiday in 1870.

Could it be clearer? I don't think so.

Yet thanks to these rulings, almost a century into American independence, now everyone trots along in step with a calendar that commemorates Christianity pretty much exclusively. Someday, I really must do some research into the debates and discussions that brought us to that point in 1870, as well as those running up to the later 1950s decision (though our favorite trolls would have it that the Founders meant it to happen All Along) to add "In God We Trust" to US currency. I'm betting that both took lines fairly similar to today's squeals from the fundie right about how oppressed Christians are in society. Oh, yes, how silenced and marginalized you are, with your own dedicated broadcasting networks and such...

Here's what I'd do, if I ran a company that actually employed anyone other than me and my spouse, and required any kind of schedule accountable to the outside world.

I'd shut down from roughly mid-December until after New Year's. Paid. This is only fair to working parents who have to deal with school schedules - now probably so entrenched that even a Federal change in observances wouldn't alter anything - and probably encompasses most families' seasonal celebrations to some degree: most traditions have something happening around Solstice, and even if you don't, the days are short, so the down time is welcome. Besides, in most B-2-B enterprises, activity slows to a crawl at this time, anyway. Better the goodwill engendered by the time off, than the tedium of employees marking time when Nothing Is Happening Anyway. Any business will prosper more with the lights off and nobody home than the overhead for a token staff doing nothing significant.

All other time - sick leave + vacation - I would make completely discretionary, to be scheduled at the individual's option, with his or her supervisor's and department's approval. You want to take Valentine's Day or your Girlfriend's Birthday off instead of Memorial Day? Go for it! There would have to be some kind of formula which governs whether or not it is practical for the business to open or not, on any given day, based on the number of available staff on duty, of course. And a rationale for the employer saying no, we can't do that, but what about this? In the general spirit of compromise. But I fail to see why private, much less public, businesses should be involved in institutionalizing any one faith.

I used to get nudged by salespeople I worked with, for taking May Day off. "Communist," one of them teased me; and, another, "Pagan rites of Spring!" Oh, if only he knew!

Rall's point stands. Institutionalize one thing, for any One Group - majority or minority, doesn't matter: it's still a clear line-crossing of the Establishment Clause - and you de facto diminish the Other.

Sadly, I don't think his vision will materialize anytime soon. But I am deeply pleased that Rall had the courage to articulate the vision so accurately. You can't claim freedom of religion while enacting policies that favor one religion above others. And that is precisely what US policy has been doing for decades.

And now, in the spirit of his post, I'm taking the day off from blog commentary, to memorialize the post-Solstice blogospheric lull.

Merry Yule, y'all.

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