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Religious liberty advocates wary of Europe’s proposed work-free Sundays


July 5, 2011

A new alliance promoting fair and balanced work conditions in Europe asked the European Union’s Economic and Social Committee last week to declare Sunday a “work-free day” in its new working guidelines for member states.

The European Sunday Alliance is a network of 65 civil society organizations, trade unions and churches that agree work-free Sundays and fair working hours would promote healthier families and strengthen social cohesion among EU member states.

The alliance’s proposal came during a conference on the impact of Sunday work on the health, safety and social integration of European workers, which drew psychologists, social scientists and other experts to Brussels June 20.

“A work free Sunday and appropriate working hours are a well deserved right for all citizens of Europe,” the alliance’s founding charter states. The charter’s definition of “appropriate working hours” goes on to exclude “late evenings, nights, public holidays and Sundays.”

Seventh-day Adventist religious liberty advocates worry the proposal might infringe on free expression of religious beliefs, despite its well-intentioned goals of reducing stress and overwork.

“We support the notion that people need a day of rest to achieve a life/work balance to maintain the health and safety of workers,” said Raafat Kamal, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Northern Europe, adding that the idea was first modeled by God, who rested following the biblical creation week.

“At the same time, we want to be sure that those who don’t have Sunday as a designated religious day of rest will be respected and tolerated,” Kamal said.

The European Jewish Congress has not yet commented on the proposed work-free Sunday. Europe is also home to some 13 million Muslims, who worship on Fridays.

“I hope that the partners in the European Sunday Alliance network … will appreciate the pluralistic dimensions of the European Union countries and the importance of respecting those with different religious beliefs and practices,” Kamal said.

Catholics in Europe are welcoming the proposal. Maximillian Aichern, a retired Roman Catholic bishop of Linz, called a work-free Sunday the “oldest social law of Christian-Jewish civilization.”

“The common day of rest, the social contracts which go with it and the praising of the Lord are the most important Christian values and … are indispensable for the human dignity,” he said.

The alliance is urging the EU and its member states to “take all legislative and political measures” to achieve a “better reconciliation of private and professional life,” its June 20 press release said.